Originally created 03/08/06

Sport remembers Twins legend



MINNEAPOLIS - In the middle of a steadily growing memorial to Kirby Puckett, outside the Metrodome and right alongside a street named for the beloved Hall of Famer, one cardboard sign stood out.

"There IS crying in baseball," the message was written, in red ink, bannered over a couple of old Puckett baseball cards taped to the corners.

All around the game, people who were close to the roly-poly outfielder who led the Minnesota Twins to two World Series titles, and even those who only watched him on TV, were saddened Tuesday by Puckett's death.

"This morning, when I got up and took a shower and watched the news, tears started coming out," said Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, one of many contemporaries who spoke about the man whose energy, enthusiasm and exceptional skills captivated baseball fans throughout a 12-year career cut short by glaucoma in 1996.

Puckett died at 45 in a Phoenix hospital Monday afternoon, a day after having a stroke in his home.

"This is a great loss for baseball," said former Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken, who with Puckett was one of the few stars of their generation who never switched teams. "Puck was one of my favorite people to compete against on the field and to be around off the field. I will always remember how Kirby played the game with joy and how he brought a smile to your face just by saying hello."

Funeral arrangements had not been finalized Tuesday afternoon.

"We'll take our time and go there, pay our respects, and then come on back down to spring training," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said before Minnesota played the New York Yankees in Tampa, Fla.

March is for games that don't matter, mere tuneups for the regular season, but Puckett's teammates and opponents always remarked how he never loafed - even in meaningless exhibitions.

Perhaps the most poignant marker of Puckett's impact on people was outside the Metrodome. There were bouquets. There were orange Wheaties boxes, commemorating the Twins' championships. There were bobblehead dolls, caps and plenty of personalized messages.

Steve Finley, now with the San Francisco Giants, remembered when Puckett said hello to Ripken while the Orioles stretched before a 1989 game in Minneapolis - and then started chatting with Finley, a rookie he had never before met.

"He had a way of making everyone feel important," Finley said.