Column: Welcome back Kirby

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 10, 2006

John Focke, Behind the mic

I realize that is a strange title for a tribute article after the passing of one of the greatest Minnesota Twins of all time, but bear with me.

Ever since Kirby Puckett retired from baseball in 1995, we have heard way too many stories, allegations and rumors about his life after baseball. Those rumors fueled a strained relationship between the Twins and their most marketable player, eventually leading to Puckett no longer associating with the team and moving to Arizona.

With his passing on Monday, we can once again think of Kirby the Player, not what was rumored after he left the game.

Kirby Puckett was larger than life in Minnesota. When I played Little League baseball every kid wanted No. 34. Outside of second base, everyone wanted to play centerfield, something I think is a direct reflection of the &8216;hero’ status Kirby had gained in the 80s and 90s.

That status was seriously tarnished with the allegations that surfaced in the late 90s, and the sudden fall from grace Kirby experienced. Minnesota fans didn’t want to believe the rumors, but when Sports Illustrated did the feature article on Kirby a few years back there was an overwhelming amount of accusations that made you shudder. I read that thinking this can’t be true, he’s Kirby Puckett. Yet I, like many Twins fans felt disappointed and sad at these stories. Many certainly began to look at Kirby in a different light. Nothing was ever proved, but the damage had been done to Puckett’s reputation.

That is why I say ‘Welcome Back Kirby.’ With his passing on Monday we can look back at the Kirby who carried the Twins to the ’87 series. I was lucky enough to attend game one against the Cardinals and can still remember the chills I got from hearing Bob Casey rip off one of his patented “KIIIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRRRRBBBBBBYYYYYY.”

Fans are now talking about Puckett’s game-winning homer and game saving catch in the ’91 series. They are talking about a guy who was a career .318 hitter, who loved baseball and was loved by teammates and fans alike.

The Twins can now bring Kirby back, make him a part of the Twins family again, something they have been trying to do for a while. So with visions of a fist-pumping Kirby in my mind, I would like to be the first to say, Welcome Back Kirby.

(KATE Sports Director John Focke’s

column appears every Friday.)