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Continued: A Minnesota hero's hard fall from grace

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 31, 2006 - 12:32 PM

But Puckett's friends say he sensed there was more to it than that.

The messy divorce and assault charges were bad PR for a franchise trying to win public support for a new stadium. Puckett told his friends that the Twins deliberately backed away.

On a cold, gray morning in December 2002, Puckett cleaned out his Metrodome office and said goodbye to the only team he had ever known. He and his friend Dwayne Harris boxed up his bobbleheads, baseballs and photographs, pausing to remember the stories behind the memorabilia.

"As he looked at things, I could see him reminiscing," Harris said. "We would talk about a few things, and then it would go in the box."

As they worked, other Twins employees kept their distance.

There was some tension, and "it was a hard day," Harris said. "He just wanted to get out of there. ... He said 'I just can't believe they don't want me anymore.' "

• • •

Just before Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, with the Twins down three games to two, Puckett addressed his teammates. "Boys, I have an announcement to make. You all seem quiet. Are you nervous about something? Well, don't worry. All you have to do tonight is jump on my back. I'll carry you." And he did -- with a spectacular catch in the third inning, and an 11th-inning, game-winning home run.

• • •

After his acquittal, Puckett told friends that it felt as though Minnesota had turned on him. He felt that the Twins, too, had abandoned him; nobody from the front office had attended his trial.

He told his friends that he would never go back to the Dome.

Days later, though, came the only scenario that could change his mind -- the induction of announcer Bob Casey into the Twins' Hall of Fame.

Casey had befriended Puckett his first week in the big leagues. He'd helped make Puckett a household name by bellowing "Kirrrr-beeee Puckett!" every time No. 34 stepped into the batter's box at the Dome. And he was the man Puckett had picked to introduce him at his 2001 Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.

So when Casey's son Mike asked Puckett if he would return the favor at his father's induction, Puckett agreed. Absolutely, Mike Casey says Puckett told him. I'll do anything for Pops.

On May 31, 2003, Puckett went back to the Dome one more time. Dressed in a snazzy black suit, he shook a few hands and exchanged a few greetings and got the loudest ovation of anyone in the Twins family.

Then he stepped to the microphone. He told the story of how Casey bought him dinner and got him a hotel room his first night in the Twin Cities.

"He ... treated me like I was family," Puckett told the fans.

Then he walked off the field and headed deep into the stadium to watch the Twins play Seattle from the privacy of a corporate suite.

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