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Continued: After the game: The Kirby Puckett we never knew

The Gold Glove outfielder who was so smooth on the field butchered those first few crappies badly, tearing out more skin and bone than meat.

"It was just comical," Leske said later. "You could see he felt bad. But I'll be damned, after three or four fish, he could filet as well as anyone."

• • •

In August 1987, Puckett went 10-for-11 against Milwaukee, tying the major-league record for most hits in consecutive games. "Sure, it's a day I'll never forget," Puckett said. "But there's nothing more I can do about it now. It's all over, and there's another game Tuesday. I just hope I don't lose this swing over the off day."

• • •

Sometimes the baseball guys called and asked him to come back full time to work with players, but Puckett always said no. The cabin life was too good. Summers were for fishing, now.

"There was no way you were ever going to get him off that lake," said his friend Mike Casey. "In Puck's mind, he'd earned this. This was his heaven."

The cabin -- surrounded by pines and oaks and nestled into the hillside overlooking a spring-fed muskie lake -- was where Puckett, Tonya and their kids, Catherine and Kirby Jr., went to relax, swim and barbecue. They celebrated July 4th there, with spectacular fireworks displays that sometimes rattled the neighbors.

After the marriage ended, it remained his refuge.

He spent the night there that first Christmas after he and Tonya split up. He was so lonely that he went over to Leske's house about 8 miles away to play cards until 2:30 a.m.

Later, alone and afraid of the dark, he asked Leske to go back to the cabin with him to keep him company and stay the night.

"You didn't see him down very often. But he was that night," Leske said. "He was pretty blue."

But there were good times at the cabin, too; plenty of them. Nearly every weekend morning, Puckett and Leske met in Puckett's driveway, grabbed fishing poles and tackle boxes and headed down the hill to the dock. From there, they hopped into Puckett's boat and hit the lake's best fishing holes, talking trash while snagging a few weeds and a whole lot of fish.

Leske always brought the doughnuts, loading up on Puckett's favorites -- chocolate. One morning he forgot, and Puckett lit into him good.

"He yelled at me for an hour," Leske said.

But that's the way it was between them. A little fishing. A few serious talks. A whole lot of needling.

If Puckett saw Leske catching more fish, he was quick with excuses.

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Atlanta - LP: A. Wood 0 FINAL
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