Results tagged ‘ Kirby Puckett ’

My Favorite Twin

As the youngest of youngsters, my Twins hero (predictably) was Kirby Puckett:

Then in the mid-90s, Rick Aguilera (for whatever reason) was my favorite Twin:

Brad Radke then picked up the mantra:

Who passed o the torch to Joe Nathan:

However, with Nathan just now perhaps getting back on the horse after Tommy John, I needed a new “favorite player”…that one guy who either comes in from the pen or strides to the plate and make you inch forward in your seat with anticipation.

Right now, for me, that player is Danny Valencia…

Sure, he’s batting in the low .200s this year after an amazing rookie 2010 stretch run surge.  But I just see so much potential in him; maybe our first bona-fide hot corner man since Corey Koskie.  He hits for power, drives the ball to the gaps, has a flair for the dramatic, and plays a solid (if sometimes spectacular) 3b.  Plus, he has just enough ego to know he’s good, yet has a solid manager and good teammates to keep that Florida ego in check.

So, as of right now, Danny Valencia is my favorite Twin.  Time will tell if V will be around for the long haul (like Cuddyer), but considering his youth and considerable talents already, I’d say he’s well on his way.

Notes:

-A good start to the series with the Rays in beating David Price.  Duesing was dominating today and Valencia (heh heh), Cuddy, and Nishioka provided the offensive firepower.

Preview (37-46, 4th, 4.0 GB CWS): James Shields (8-5, 2.45) vs. Scott Baker (6-5, 3.15)

The Killer

Today, Minnesota Twins fans, baseball fans, and the world at large lost a hero with the passing of Harmon Killebrew at age 74 due to esophogeal cancer.

There are so many tributes to Harm floating around in cyberspace that I don’t even know where to begin.  Heck, I didn’t even see the guy play, but when EVERYONE who know says he was their hero as a child, a legend is pretty much the closest way of describing him.

I could go so many directions here, but I’ll keep it short and say this: When all is said in done, it really doesn’t matter how many home runs he hit or how many ballgames he won/lost.  Those moments may produce a lot of nostalgia, but the real reason there are a lot of misty eyes in Minnesota right now is because of the type of man Harmon was.  I’ve never heard a harsh word said about him from anyone, and he was always a model for a good, clean, simple life filled with the things and people he loved.  Referencing the “hook” of the above video tribute, I think that Harmon DID get all those letters (or at least tried!).  He also valued them deeply.

When Babe Ruth, the greatest pre-Harmon slugger, was dying of cancer (also of the throat, oddly enough), he was known to quip “The termites have got me.”  Well, sadly those same “termites” got Harm today, along with a big portion of Minnesota childhood for the baby boomers.

As far as relating this to the current Twins team that is mired in a deep slump, I remember a certain ballclub just a few years ago that turned a tragic event:

…into the inspiration for a remarkable comeback.  That team, of course, was the 2006 Twins, who (on May 17) were 9.5 GB in the division and ended up going to the playoffs.

Preview (12-27, 5th, 3.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (2-5, 7.07) vs. Felix Hernandez (4-3, 3.36)

Kirby

Every Spring Training for the MN Twins, at some point I am reminded of the death of Kirby Puckett in 2006.  Although I didn’t become a serious baseball fan until the mid 1990s, the very end of Puck’s cut-short career, I just remember (as a child) the presence of Kirby being larger than life.  He was (perhaps more than any other) the player who initially got me excited about Twins baseball.

It’s very sad to me that Puckett is no longer around.  When I think of legendary players, I think of guys like Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva.  For my dad, for instance, just seeing those guys is enough to rekindle a flood of old (and primarily rosy!) memories.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to do that with Puck.  Later this August, when the Twins have their 20th Anniversary of the 1991 World Series, there will be a big hole in CF, as has been the case since 2006.

We only have videos like the ones in this post to remember #34.

 

Gags

Before this past weekend becomes too “old news”, I wanted to take a moment to comment on the induction of Greg Gagne into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame.

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Here’s the thing: Gagne was solid defensively, did all the “little things” that the Twins organization values, and is the nicest guy you’ll ever chat with.  He also played for both Twins world championship, 1987 and 1991.

The trouble is, Gagne was the epitome of an “average” ballplayer.  His career batting average was .254 (over 15 seasons), and the highest he ever hit in a single season was .280 (and that was post-Twins with the KC Royals).  He hit 111 career homers, stole 109 bases, yet (in one of the most bizarre stats that you’ll never see in today’s game) was actually caught stealing 96 times.  His OPS in any given season never touched .750.

Thus, I can’t say that I agree whatsoever with the Twins’ inception of Gags into their HOF.  I love to see him (and appreciate his contributions) at team reunions and get-togethers, but putting him in cohorts with names like Killebrew, Oliva, Carew, and Puckett really only cheapens that selection group.

However, I have only congratulations for Mr. Gagne now that the deed has been done.  I’m sure it is a great thrill for him.

One other quick note: The Twins once again put on a great show last weekend with their 50th Anniversary Celebration.  The 50 Greatest Twins ceremony was great, while the old-timers game provided a lot of laughs (Kent Hrbek’s divot, primarily) and good memories.  Like Gene Washington taking his hacks with his new team (the Rangers) standing on the top step laughing their butts off…

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…One Joe Here To Say!

Well, Joe Mauer is going to have a lot more to smile about now…

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…and so do we (the fans)!  Eight more years (nine, counting 2010) of arguably the most talented player in the major leagues right now.

Although crossing the 20% (of the total payroll) threshold has been suicide for many teams (just remember A-Rod going to Texas), I think the Twins have a good enough organization and farm system to build around Mauer (or keep the talent around, as is the case now) for many years.

Giving 8 years and $184 million to a health-risk catcher may seem dicey, but Mauer is the exception to the rule.  If he wanted to stay, and he did, then the right move was locking him up at any price.

It just boggles my mind that only 20 years ago, Kirby Puckett…

puckett88nike-1.jpg  was the first guy in the majors to make $3 million per season.   Crazy.

Thanks For The Memories


dome6.jpgDuring the early goings of September of the 2009 Twins baseball season, it looked as if game number 162 (the contest that typically ends the MLB season unless you happen to play in the Midwest) would be a great remembrance of all the baseball that the Metrodome had produced before giving way to Target Field next season.  A post-game ceremony down on the field after that game was both parts touching and entertaining, but there was just one problem…the old Dome wasn’t done; it would go on to host two more games!

Thus, it never really felt as if the Metrodome got that proper sense of ending as maybe it should have…that moment when you just look around and soak it all in.  Obviously, with the New York Yankees celebrating, it wasn’t the time for that feeling.  That is why I would now like to relive my favorite moments of being at the Dome.  Perhaps you will remember some of these as well:

-1990: My first memory of the Dome recalls seeing Kirby Puckett being given the Silver Slugger award for winning the batting title the previous year.  While going through the turnstiles that day, I got a black bat “signed” by Puck that I believe I still have stashed away to this day.

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-1991: Though most fans may only remember the ’91 seaons for Puckett’s Game Six and Black Jack’s Game Seven, there was also quite a heated race (at least for awhile) with the Oakland A’s.  Back then, when both teams were part of the AL West division, the A’s were the powerhouse team of the circuit.  They came into a summer series at the Dome and jumped way ahead of the Twins in every game thanks to the power of guys like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Dave Henderson (looking back, can you imagine all the steroids coursing through those veins?).  However, the Twins scrapped back in every game and won them all.  I was lucky enough to be at the one that everyone remembers, where the Twins rallied against Dennis Eckersley (the Mariano Rivera of his day) on a triple from Chili Davis that RF Canseco played like a pin-ball down in the corner.  As Jose was bouncing around, a fan overhanging right field chucked an unravelling roll of toilet paper down onto the field, only adding to the mayhem!

 
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-1996-2000: I really began following the Twins with a passion in ’96, but from then until ’00 the Twins were perennial cellar-dwellers. Not to be deterred, though, my Dad and I would still get down to the Dome a few times each year to watch guys like Bob Tewksbury, Pat Mahomes, Brent Gates, Rich Becker, and Scott Stahoviak (among others) battle to not lose 100 games.  I didn’t seem to care about the futility, I guess, as I still root-root-rooted for the home team with all I had.  The attendance was so poor during those years that one could (and we often did) guy a cheap ticket and move right up behind the infield.  Believe it or not, there were no users to stop people!

A more specific game from that time period involves a field trip with my sixth grade class.  My exact recollection of the event is understandably a bit hazy, but the Twins were facing Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox.  The game went into extra innings, the Twins loaded the bases with no outs, but then two guys (one of which I’m positive was Terry Steinbach) struck out.  The next batter then singled to win the game (I want to say it was Pat Meares, but I could be wrong).

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-2002: Fifteen innings of baseball against the Atlanta Braves.  Bobby Cox got tossed in the first inning, the Twins roughed up Greg Maddux, and Christian Guzman’s double off the baggy scored Tom Prince (pictured above) to win it.  Once you do the fourteenth-inning stretch, you never forget it!

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-2002: With the Twins already having locked up the division title, they hosted the beaten White Sox to close out the season.  I was at the final two games, both won by dramatic, late-inning home runs from Bobby Kielty.

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-2008: With the Twins needing to sweep the White Sox in the final homestand to stay in the playoff race, they do just that.  I was at all three thrillers, but of course momst remember the final contest when the Twins fell behind early but clawed back into it thanks to a dramatic triple from Denard Span.  A walk-off hit from Alexi Casilla sealed it in extra innings.

So, those are my fondest, brightest memories of the Metrodome.  Though many malign it as a dump and unfit for the National Pastime, it is the only home turf I have ever seen the Twins play on, and no one can take that from me.  Though Target Field may prove to be a rousing success (or a miserable failure, whatever the case may be), it will always be the Dome that holds my childhood baseball nostalgia.

Thanks Again, Kirby!

Puck.jpgWhile rambling around on YouTube the other night, I was reminded that it has been three years since Kirby Puckett passed away (March 6, 2006), so I wanted to post another little tribute to the player who was my baseball hero growing up (hopefully this will become an annual tradition on the date of his sudden passing).

Even though I really wasn’t that “into” baseball (I was born in 1985) during the heyday of Puckett’s great career, I still give him a lot of credit for fostering my life of the game that still burns within me.  I mean, it takes a rare player to captivate an area like Puckett did.  Even though I don’t think I watched an entire baseball game until about 1996 or so, I have fond memories of Kirby, such as being present when he received the Silver Slugger Award in 1990, or sitting “right above him” in ’94-’95 when he was in right field.  Like I said, even though my childish interests were more directed at Batman, Superman, and Power Rangers at that time in my life, I was still captivated by Kirby Puckett.  The only player the Twins have had even come close to that sort of charisma/recognition is Torii Hunter, but he still wasn’t Puck and I think Torii himself would even admit it as such.

To be honest, though, I think the saddest part of Kirby’s death three years ago was that he wasn’t yet comfortable enough to return to MN after his court trial some years earlier.  However, just the fact that Puck was embarrassed about the whole thing tells me that he really wasn’t a bad guy…he just made a mistake that, because of his celebrity, got dragged through the mud.  Thus, I respect Puck’s decision to get away from MN for awhile after that nasty trial, but I truly believe that the community would have welcomed him back at any time.  There was just too much to love about Kirby that could not be overshadowed by a couple of undoings, which was proven by the overwhelming tributes after his death.

Here are two tribute videos to Kirby that I found on YouTube that, at least to me, convey the essence of Kirby Puckett:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0y3m_mY02mo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aPU2dJZJxg

We Are Family (Minus One)

koskie.jpgI was saddened to hear yesterday that former Twin, Blue Jay, and Brewer Corey Koskie announced his retirement from professional baseball.  As Twins fans, how can we not respect the tenacity that Koskie showed for the game of baseball, as he was one of those guys without much raw talent that needed every ounce of skill in his body to hit .280, 20 HR, and play fabulous defense at the hot corner.  Sadly, however, his strange concussion-like malady has now forced him to leave the game he loves.  Though even he admitted he could probably play through the discomfort, he did not want to put himself through another rough year or two, and with young children growing up at home I don’t know how you can blame him for that.

During my time as a writer for the University Register at the University of Minnesota, Morris, I penned an article about Koskie (and other former Twins) that I thought would be appropriate to share on this blog.  Just remember that the article is a wee bit dated (written just in advance of the start of the ’07 season), but the basic principles of the piece still hold true:

Over the last seven seasons, the Minnesota Twins have become a perennial powerhouse in the American League.  Yet, besides a winning product on the field, the Twins have created a family-type atmosphere that makes them so endearing and fun to watch.  While many baseball teams disperse their own separate ways the minute a game is completed (i.e. the New York Yankees), the Twins stick together, evidenced by the roommate pairing of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau last season.  Journeyman players who have wandered the major leagues or young rookies fresh from the bush leagues can be considered “part of the family” once assigned a Twins uniform.  However, in order to stay competitive in baseball’s current economy, many a fine Twins “family member” has needed to be disowned.  In almost all cases, leaving the Twins’ family produced disastrous results…

Christian Guzman–Endeared himself to Twins fans in 2001 with his unusual goatee and that “bionic sound” he made while scampering to third base with another triple.  Since leaving the Twins after 2004, Guzy batted .219 for the Washington Nationals in 2005 and missed the entire ’06 season due to shoulder surgery.

Matt Lawton–Lawton was the most talented Twins outfielder during the doldrums of the late 1990s.  Never sniffed .300 after leaving the Twins via a trade in ’01 and was busted for steroids with the Yankees in 2005.

A.J. Pierzynski–You know the fan who gets a few beers in him and annoys the heck out of his entire section?  A.J. Pierzynski was that guy’s hero.  Pierzynski is still a quality catcher for the Chisox, but his trade brought the Twins Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser.

Luis Rivas–A mainstay (admittedly if only because of a lack of depth) at the second base position from 2001-2004 and often single-handedly defeated the Kansas City Royals.  Could not make the Tampa Bay Devils Rays roster in 2006, one year after the Twins released him.

David Ortiz–The one who got away.  The gregarious “Big Papi” was a fan-favorite in 2001-2002, but also quite injury-prone, leading to his departure.  Ortiz latched on with Boston and is now arguably major league baseball’s biggest superstar.

Doug Mientkiewicz–Led the Twins’ surge to prominence in 2001, but is now best remembered for stealing a baseball, not hitting or catching one.

Eric Milton–A solid, if not spectacular, starting pitcher for the Twins who pitched a no-hitter in 1999.  Now regularly leads the NL in home runs allowed.

Joe Mays–Highly-touted Twins prospect who, after one great season (2001) fizzled out.  Was recently cut from LA Dodgers training camp.

Jacque Jones–Teamed with Torii Hunter to create the “Soul Patrol” outfield but could not be afforded after 2005.  Last year, Jacque was a steady contributor (.285, 27 home runs) for the Chicago Cubs.

LaTroy Hawkins–After first succeeding (then failing miserably) as a closer, “Hawk” became a premier middle reliever before pricing himself out of a Twins uniform.  Hasn’t been nearly as dominant since leaving Minnesota (4.48 ERA in 60 innings for the Orioles last season) and still collapses in pressure situations.

Eddie Guardado–“Everyday Eddie” earned his nickname as a middle reliever, but transformed himself into a reliable (if not spectacular) closer.  Recently, Eddie has become anything but reliable due to chronic left elbow problems.

Yet, there is one player who has fallen on especially hard times after leaving the Twins family.  The name noticeably absent from this nostalgic list is Corey Koskie.  In 2001, Koskie banded together with Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, and Doug Mientkiewicz in order to bring winning baseball back to Minnesota, much like Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, and Kirby Puckett did in the early 1980s.

Koskie debuted with the Twins organization in 1999 where, at third base and right field, he made an immediate splash (.310 batting average) on a punchless team.  However, Koskie struggled mightily with his third base defense, not exhibiting enough quickness or range to play the position.  Yet, on a team where playoff aspirations were nonexistent, Koskie was given the time necessary to develop his fielding skills, eventually molding himself into a perennial Gold Glove candidate, with his diving stops and on-target throws (even if he did have to occasionally bounce them off the old Metrodome turf) becoming commonplace.

After being a key contributor to the Twins’ playoff teams of 2002-2004, Koskie was courted by a number of teams who coveted the slick-fielding, decent power/average third baseman.  Though pursued by the Twins, Koskie was ultimately signed by the Toronto Blue Jays of his native Canada.  Before leaving Minnesota, in a gesture demonstrating his appreciation of the Twins’ organization and fans, Koskie took out full-page ads in both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune expressing his gratitude for being allowed to thrive in Minnesota.

After a disappointing and injury-riddled season in Toronto, Koskie again changed teams, this time heading to Milwaukee.  With a fast start to 2006, Koskie seemed to be getting his career back on track until disaster struck on July 5.  While chasing a pop-up at Miller Park, Koskie overran the ball, had to bend backwards, and ended up falling to the ground, his neck whip-lashing before impact.  While the incident did not seem overly violent, Koskie’s next at-bat was like something out of the fifth dimension of the Twilight Zone, complete with images coming in and out of focus and spells of dizziness.

Since that day, Koskie has not played an inning of baseball for the Brewers.  A week after the concussion, Koskie tried returning to the Brewers’ lineup, but was overcome by dizziness, fatigue, and nausea, requiring him to leave the field once again.  After visiting a neuropsychologist, Koskie was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome from his fall.  For the rest of that season, Koskie could only work out in small increments without the symptoms returning.  His head injury even affected his family life, as watching his son’s hockey games became impossible due to the bright lights giving him terrible headaches. 

As for 2007 season begins, Koskie has begun rehabilitating both mind and body at his home in Minnesota, hoping to rejoin his team at the earliest possible date.  Though post-concussion symptoms can last for years, Koskie seems to be on track to the major leagues again, as evidence by rising scores on the reaction-time and cognitive ability tests he regularly undergoes.  According to Koskie himself (in an interview with the Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse), “I’m going to play again.  I’m sure of that.  If I wasn’t, I would have a lot more depression to deal with.”

In 1982, a promising young outfielder named Jim Eisenreich debuted with the Minnesota Twins.  After suffering several mystifying seizures at his left field post, Eisenreich was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, putting his major league career in serious jeopardy.  However, after three years of undergoing treatment, Eisenreich returned to the major leagues.  In 1993 he helped the Philadelphia Phillies to the National League Championship by batting .318.  In 1996 he hit .361 with the Phillies, and ’97 brought him a World Series championship with the Florida Marlins.  Hopefully, Corey Koskie can do much of the same.

 

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