Twins Talk, August 20 20 Aug 15

Twins Talk

Photos and Stories by Gordy Jones

On My Soapbox; Just Have Fun!

Everyone says the Minnesota Twins have some of the best fans in baseball. For the most part, that is true. They are great supporters of the team when things are going well. But if things go awry, some of the fans have short memories and can turn into haters. One good example of how finicky Twins fans can be: the way they treated one of the most beloved Twins ever, Kirby Puckett.

Puckett played the game hard and brought a lot of fun to the team — an element the team had lost for a while in the 1980s. New fans came out of the woodwork as Kirby helped the team win two World Championships — one in 1987 and another in 1991. Fans were having fun. Then, in September of 1995 tragedy struck as Kirby was beaned by a fastball thrown by Dennis Martinez and sat out the rest of the season. The following March, Kirby woke one morning with no sight in one eye. Doctors said that the two were not related, and that the blindness was brought on by glaucoma, but many fans feel otherwise. Kirby was forced into retirement. Five years later, he was inducted into Cooperstown with his great pal Dave Winfield, first time on the ballot for both. I was fortunate enough to be invited by Kirby and Dave to travel to the Hall of Fame, and to take photos of the induction for them. Kirby was still a hero.

After his induction, he seemed to get depressed. Kirby was used to spending every day at the ball park, working out, running, jumping, and having fun. He loved winning, but he didn’t necessarily enjoy the hero worship he received. Anyhow, in the blink of an eye, it all was gone. He had a few personal problems that were exposed to the world. There was negative press, and venomous water cooler talk amongst fans about him. Even the Twins, who hired him as a VP just to keep him around, released him. He had been living the good life, but it probably wasn’t the same as playing a kids’ game with his buddies. The same fans who adored him when he played now wanted to crucify him for his mistakes. People didn’t want to believe that Kirby Puckett was human and made mistakes. Then he met a great lady named Jodi Olson, whom he had planned to marry. They moved to Arizona and lay low – under the radar. When I last saw “The Puck,” it was at P.A. announcer Bob Casey’s funeral. As I was entering the building, I heard a whispering voice: “Sssppp…hey Gordy!” I walked to the side of the chapel to find a 300-pound Kirby Puckett. He explained to me that he had been inside to pay his respects, but everyone was fussing over him, taking away from Casey’s memorial. He said he was on the side of the building because he was hiding out. But he would call the friends over. I felt honored. He laughed and made fun of my clothes, as he always did. He was physically heavy, but seemed happy — like the old Kirby. He asked me to give him Dave Winfield’s new phone number, and said we should get together. That was in March of 2005. Kirby went back to Arizona and hid out with Jodi. They had planned to marry in June of 2006. But a year almost to the day after Bob Casey’s funeral, March 5, 2006, Kirby never woke up. He died of a cerebral brain hemorrhage in Arizona next to Jodi. Suddenly, the fans forgave him. Fans piled flowers, signs, photos, bats, balls, and anything else Puckett-related as they wandered around the outside of the Dome weeping. I joined them, because the following day I was scheduled to travel to Florida to write about spring training, and would miss the memorial, so this was my Puckett memorial. Many of the players missed it, too, because it was early March, and they were training. But many of his closest baseball friends were allowed to leave training and attend.

Today with social media, fans can spread negativity even faster. Glen Perkins was perfect, with 16 saves before the All-Star Game. But after the break, not so perfect. Twitter and Facebook lit up with threats and mean personal statements after his first blown save. Then, there are the Mauer bashers who say Joe makes too much money, and that is why the Twins have fallen into a skid. They criticize both guys for lack of effort, when both spend 12 hours at the park almost every day trying to stay in the groove. Since I know most of the guys, I get very upset when folks take personal shots. Say what you want about their game, but don’t trash them personally.

Then there are the “experts” who rip the Pohlads, saying that the Twins lose games because they are tight. That’s not the case. I have been in the room and have heard Jim Pohlad say that Terry Ryan has the freedom to sign anyone if will help his team win. He wants to win. The truth of the matter is there are not always players available who want to come here, and that would help us win. If anyone is frugal, it is Terry Ryan, who doesn’t want to get stung giving out a big contract with his bosses’ money and get no return. He doesn’t want a deal to backfire, like the Ricky Nolasco deal. The “tight” Mr. Pohlad threw 48 million dollars Ricky’s way, and he has been injured most of the time, and hasn’t contributed anything.

I just hope the Twins get back on track. They gave us more fun so far this year than we’ve had in the last three. Remember that baseball is a game, and remember an inspirational Puckett quote. After he lost his sight in one eye, Kirby said, “It might be cloudy in my right eye, but the sun is shining in my left.” Look for that sunshine. Enjoy the good things baseball has to offer, chill out, and maybe listen to Puckett’s favorite song, “What a Wonderful World.”