Finding a family, losing his health

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 30, 2006 - 10:44 PM

As he enjoyed his new life and family in sunny Arizona, friends worried about his weight, his eating habits and the lack of structure in his days.

A year after buying the Arizona house, Kirby Puckett was in the mood to celebrate. His girlfriend, Jodi Olson, was turning 36 that October weekend in 2005, and most of her family had flown down to Scottsdale for the party.

Puckett had planned a surprise. As Olson sat in her swimsuit, a towel wrapped around her waist, the guests gathered around her at the poolside bar.

He dropped to his knee. Grinning widely, he slid a diamond ring onto her finger.

The couple embraced, and relatives applauded and whooped and raised their glasses in a toast.

Although Puckett had seen other women after his divorce, Olson, a single mother of an 8-year-old boy, had been his steady.

Friends said Puckett clearly considered her special.

"Our relationship was like a switch -- we clicked right away," Olson said recently. "He's extremely outgoing. I'm very shy. We brought a lot out in each other."

She wasn't, however, a baseball fan.

While accompanying Puckett on a trip to Cooperstown for the 2003 Hall of Fame ceremony, she asked him if Babe Ruth was going to be there.

To which she says Puckett replied: Babe, I tell you what. If Babe Ruth is there, we're on the first plane out of there.

On that October day in 2005 as the birthday and engagement party moved into high gear, guests sipped cocktails and splashed in the pool.

Inside the house, Dave Chmurzynski, who was catering the party, was scrambling to save face. He'd run out of tomatoes and had to race to the market to buy more. Now there was no room on the kitchen island to slice them up.

Puckett grandly cleared the counter with a wide sweep of his forearm. There you go, he said.

He grinned, but Chmurzynski was embarrassed.

The next morning, when Chmurzynski returned to pick up his margarita machine, he found the former ballplayer soaking in the pool.

Hey, Dave, we ran out of food, he says Puckett hollered.

You've got to be kidding, Chmurzynski said. No way.

We ran out of food, Dave, Puckett said again. We ran out of food.

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