From 1987 through 1992, only two teams won the American League West--the Minnesota Twins and the Oakland Athletics. In those six years, the two teams combined for five AL pennants and three World Series titles.
As often happens when two successful teams compete in the same era for the same titles, a rivalry develops. In those days, I considered the Twins to be the A's biggest rival.
As an A's fan, I grew to despise everything about the Twins. You name it, I hated it. I hated the Metrodome. There was nothing redeeming about it--the roof where pop flies got lost into triples, the turf that took a grounder to second base and turned it into an inside the park homer. I hated that bad architecture had turned baseball into some other sport altogether. I hated that they played indoors. I hated that the used air conditioners to cheat. I hated the artificially amplified noise. I hated the shrill voice of Bob Casey, the PA announcer. I hated Kent Hrbek's cockiness. I hated Gary Gaetti when he was a selfish jerk, and then I hated him when he found God and became all self-righteous. I hated Dan Gladden's hustlier-than-thou attitude. I hated Frank Viola's mustache. I especially hated Greg Gagne, who sucked against everybody except, it seemed, the A's. Gagne just really irritated the heck out of me. If I had to make an all-time all-annoying team, Greg Gagne would be my shortstop. If fact, name any player on the Twins in those days, and I could find some reason to hate him.
Except Kirby Puckett.
It was just impossible to not like the guy. I hated the Twins, but I loved Kirby Puckett. I couldn't help it. He was just too much fun to watch.
Any player--any person--that has any success in life uses some combination of positive attributes to reach their success. Some players thrive on an inner calm. Some players thrive on discipline, some on a channeled anger, some on determination, some on grit, some on hustle, some on pure God-given talent.
More than any player I've ever seen, Kirby Puckett thrived on joy. This joy, the pure joy of playing baseball, was absolutely contagious, even if you despised the team he was playing. The value of his numbers alone didn't put him into the Hall of Fame. It was the value of the joy he brought to the fans that put him over the top.
There was a dark side to that joy, which came out later, after his career ended. His last few years seemed unbearably sad, as if perhaps he simply could not bear to live without the joy of playing baseball.
And now, sadly, Kirby Puckett has passed away. But perhaps, if we think back beyond the sadness, we can hold in our memory a smile, a laugh, and know that the joy that he brought to us will never die.