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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

• • •

With a home run against Kansas City on June 26, 1994, Puckett became the Twins' all-time leader in hits, breaking Rod Carew's record of 2,085. "I'm the same old Kirby," he said. "A lot older and a lot slower, but still hacking."

• • •

As the months passed, Puckett's ties to Tonya and the kids were becoming more tenuous. While the bitter divorce had made dealings with Tonya difficult, his relationship with his children, Catherine and Kirby Jr., had changed, too.

His friends noticed that Puckett was with his children less and less. On poker nights they watched as Puckett called his kids again and again, often leaving voice mail messages to tell them he loved them.

"The thing that hurt him most wasn't the [breakup]," said longtime friend and teammate Ron Washington. "The thing that hurt him more than that was he wasn't seeing his kids" as often as he had before.

Adding to his frustration was the constant public scrutiny of his health and weight.

Without a job, his life lacked structure. And with those big appetites of his, he was eating more, maybe drinking more, getting bigger by the month. His friends were worried.

B. Todd Jones, a former U.S. Attorney who represented Puckett at his trial, sensed Puckett was embarrassed by his appearance. "He wasn't taking care of himself," Jones said.

His close friend Hughes said Puckett loved to party, entertain and "enjoy himself. If there was a day he was going to eat and drink and be merry, he was going to eat and drink and be merry as much as humanly possible."

By late 2003, several close friends, including former Twins teammate Dan Gladden, tried to persuade Puckett to move south. Get away, they told him. Start over.

Puckett had talked about moving for years, but he had always said he wouldn't go until Kirby Jr. graduated from high school.

But now, friends say, Minnesota had become a cold and callous place. He needed distance.

Olson remembers that on a bitterly cold morning in early 2004, while watching the weather forecast on TV, Puckett turned to her and said, That's it, babe. We're moving.

That October, Puckett and Olson hopped a plane to Arizona. They walked through 11 houses, but quickly picked a spacious, single-story home on Shangri La Road in Scottsdale. It had a large back yard, a pool, a hot tub and a putting green. To the southwest was Phoenix. To the northeast were the mountains. All around them was blue sky and that dry desert heat.

Puckett bought the house for $1.3 million in cash one month later.

Out in the desert, hundreds of miles from the bitter windchill and painful memories of the Twin Cities, Kirby Puckett had found a new home.

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