Four dollars and a four-block walk. That’s all it took for me to go a Minnesota Twins baseball game growing up. I’d buy a general admission ticket to the upper deck and then sneak down to the lower deck. Truly there was one main reason I wanted to go watch baseball in the unnatural Teflon bubble of Minneapolis’ Metrodome: Kirby Puckett, the teddy bear-looking (and shaped), rifle-armed center fielder who patrolled the outfield Astroturf for the Twins.
Kirby was all effort and smiles. For a short, chubby kid living in the shadow of the stadium there wasn’t another choice—Kirby Puckett was the perfect baseball hero. He had personality, skill, hustle, and he won. I imitated his high leg-kick swing playing Whiffle ball in the backyard and chugged my stumpy legs to first base on the dirt field at Elliot Park just like he did. Kirby wasn’t a mere ballplayer; he was an icon. He was an entire chapter of my childhood.
Sitting at my desk at work, a year out of college, I saw the news of Kirby’s death from a hemorrhagic stroke at his home in Arizona, and I cried. I had to go to the men’s room to pull myself together so I could keep working. A part of my childhood had died. He was a week shy of 46. I was three weeks shy of 23. That was seven years ago, last Wednesday.
Losing a childhood icon creates a void. It is a wicked blow. Each of us has some larger-than-life figures who shaped our childhood. They gave us smiles and wonder and fun. They were imminently, innocently imitable . No, they weren’t the character shapers or the lesson teachers, but they still shaped us—our enjoyments and passions and hobbies. Such voids can’t be filled.
And we shouldn’t try to fill those voids. They should serve as a reminder of the joys of childhood, a time when we could lose ourselves in a baseball game or a book or make-believe and feel no guilt about it. The memories should bring us back to a time when we thought we could be the next legendary Minnesota Twin or great sleuth. Such memories are a gift. No, we can’t relive them. But we can enjoy them.
Kirby Puckett is significant to me. Unknowingly, he played a role in making me what I am today. I don’t credit him for this, but I am thankful. On this anniversary of losing him it’s worthwhile to think about the joy he brought. Childhood memories aren’t simply nostalgic happiness inducers. They’re reminders of why we are who we are. And that’s significant.