In 1995, Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett was arguably the most beloved and best-known professional athlete in the state.
He had two World Series rings (1987 and 1991) and the player stats that would secure his spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame just a few years later. What he didn’t have was a nearby lakeside retreat where he could relax with his family — and drop a line off the dock or the side of a boat.
“He liked to fish,” said Tonya Puckett-Miller, then his wife. “He was looking at retirement, and we were looking for a place. We had a place in Fort Myers [the team’s spring training headquarters in Florida]. We decided we wanted a place closer to home.”
The Pucketts found what they were looking for on Deer Lake near St. Croix Falls, Wis. The 1980-built house was casual and cozy, with knotty pine paneling, screened porches, two docks and a stone fireplace with a rustic log mantel. Yet with five bedrooms and almost 4,000 square feet, it was big enough to accommodate a crowd.
“We called it ‘the cabin’ but it was a lake home,” said Puckett-Miller.
The property was close to the Twin Cities (just over an hour’s drive from the Pucketts’ home in Edina), making it easy to get away for weekends or even just an afternoon. And it was extremely private — about 2.7 acres set among tall pines at the end of a peninsula.
The setting is unusually secluded, even for a lake place, but especially for one so close to the metro area, said Marcy Wengler, an agent with Edina Realty. “He was a very recognized figure. He needed someplace he could sneak away to and have family time.”
The family, which included the Pucketts’ children, Catherine and Kirby Jr., now young adults, cherished their time together away from the spotlight.
“We liked the privacy,” Puckett-Miller said. “It really felt like our own world. You can feel like you’re removed from everybody.”
Not that the Pucketts were recluses. Their lake place was a frequent gathering spot for their extended family and friends. “Our home was the place to go,” Puckett-Miller said.
Brian Parker, a cousin from Roseville, remembers July 4th parties at the lake where 25 people would come for boating, Jet Ski rides, towing the kids on inner tubes, then, at nightfall, watching fireworks off the dock. And lots of fishing.
“Fishing was Kirby’s No. 1 thing,” Parker recalled. Puckett kept a vast collection of rods, reels and fishing poles in the four-car garage, “so nobody was short of being able to fish.” They caught sunfish, crappies and bass. (Several of the fish Puckett caught are mounted on plaques bearing his name and displayed throughout the home.)
Like many anglers, Puckett was an early riser at the lake. Kirby Jr. remembers getting up at 5 a.m. to go fishing with his dad. “Sometimes it was freezing,” he said. “We’d catch crappies and sunnies and have big fish fries.” They cleaned the fish at an outdoor counter right off the dock, then cooked them in the nearby fire pit overlooking the lake. “We’d all eat them as a family,” he said.
At the lake, Puckett taught his kids how to fish, but not without mishap. Hooks got caught on trees, on the boat, even on Puckett’s own ear, said Puckett-Miller. “He taught Kirby Jr. how to use wax worms [as bait]. He [Kirby Jr.] hated putting them on the hook, so he would hide ’em in his pocket.”
The Pucketts also retreated to the lake in wintertime. “We put up a [Christmas] tree there. The kids would go ice skating,” Puckett-Miller said. And Puckett tried ice fishing. “He did it a few times but he did not love it,” she said. “He was afraid of it. He wasn’t a daredevil.”
The superstar athlete was an amiable, regular Joe at his cabin, according to Parker. “He was not a flashy guy. He was just fun and down-to-earth, joking around all the time.”
He also kept everyone well fed. “He did a lot of barbecuing. The grill was going constantly,” Parker said. “Just people having a good time and hanging with each other.”
If it rained, they’d play card games or board games, he recalled. At night, guests would gather for a movie, a few hands of poker or to relax in the lower-level bar/game room, which was outfitted with popular arcade games of the ’90s like Donkey Kong and Galaga and a Batman pinball machine.
There were a couple of guest rooms, but guests often were having so much fun that they crashed on couches or in sleeping bags on the lower level, where the action was. “Who wanted to be up in a bedroom when you could be down here?” Parker said.
The Pucketts were divorced in 2002, and the baseball star died in 2006 after a massive stroke. His family has decided it’s time to say goodbye to “the cabin,” which they were using too infrequently to justify keeping.
“They put it on the market last year and got an offer, said Wengler. “But it moved a little too fast for the kids,” she said. “They wanted one more summer.”
For Kirby Jr. and Catherine, the lake place is closely associated with memories of their father, said Puckett-Miller. “They miss their dad. That’s when all of those memories were created.”
Growing up, the cabin was their refuge, the place where they could unwind with those closest to them. Asked what he’ll miss most, Kirby Jr. said, “Coming up there and having the whole family there — the feeling that nobody was up there but us.”
Marcy Wengler, 651-225-3941, and Brian Parker, 651-651-225-3991, of Edina Realty have the listing.