I'm not really what you'd call a sports nut, but the one sport I've ever followed is baseball, and there was no time that I followed it closer than when I was a kid in the late '80s, early '90s - the "good old days" of my favorite team, the Twins, when they were essentially defined by a certain guy named Kirby Puckett. Hearing of his death hit me in sort of an odd, personal way today. It's not that I'm one of those people who gets so overwhelmed by the death of celebrities that they fall apart and feel the need to light candles and leave memorabilia at certain landmarks...I think it's just that to me, and likely to any other kids my age growing up in Minnesota, "Kirbeeeeeee Pucket!" was a hometown hero we all felt a connection to. He was more than a really good baseball player...he was more like our older friend we all looked up to. I'm sure it had to do with his bright smile, his jovially chunky stature & his obvious enthusiasm...very kid-friendly. He sort of seemed like a kid himself, just havin' fun, playing a game he loved. And he didn't let us down! Unless you lived under a rock on October 26, 1991 (or in the case of my brother Tim, still in your mother's womb, a day away from being born, hehe :)), a moment that is imprinted in your brain is when his bat hit that ball in game 6...watching him circle the bases and pump his fists the second that ball went over the fence. I remember jumping up and down for joy! To a kid who loved the Twins, it was about the best thing that could ever happen.
And yet in spite of all the glory -- all the accolades and all the admiration -- when all was stripped away, our hero was just a human being like all of us. This became more apparent in his final years, as his once stellar reputation beccame tarnished by various accusations of misconduct. He had a soul that needed saving, and his days were numbered. Even heroes aren't immortal...well, all but One.
For me, this is a sad moment, and a sobering reminder to "make the most of every opportunity" (Ephesians 4)....
p.s. My only personal memory of Kirby is really obscure. My mom and I were in the parking lot of Southdale Square on Christmas Eve many years ago, and we could not find a spot to park, so we were just circling around in our car. Suddenly, my mom said "That's Kirby Puckett behind us!". I turned around and looked through the back window, and sure enough, Kirby Puckett was sitting behind the steering wheel of the white mini-van behind us! I can't remember if there was ever any interaction beyond that - I seem to remember him smiling and waving us on for some reason - but I thought it was pretty cool.