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True enough, Hershey bars are drawn into his mouth with alarming efficiency, like crisp dollar bills into a change machine. But can a sugar rush account for his enthusiasm? The way he does the twist in his swivel chair? How he pops up to greet visitors with shouts of "Daddy!" and "Poppy!"
Listen to Kirby Puckett, subject of the forthcoming Kirby Puckett Weekend in Minneapolis, as he gazes out the window of his Metrodome office onto a street called Kirby Puckett Place. "I've had everything in this town," says the new executive vice president of the Minnesota Twins. "Kirby Puckett Pancakes, man, they were good; just add milk and eggs, and you're ready to go. I've been on two Wheaties boxes, man. I got to meet Robert Guillaume—who's that, Benson? And whatshisname, from Lethal Weapon...."
"Danny Glover!" says Puckett. "I know Michael Jordan, man. I know Kevin Garnett. I got to meet my heroes, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, and become their friend."
This is the cast of Puckett Place, which is the anti-Peyton Place, the un-Melrose Place, a place to meet the impossibly upbeat. Puckett's is a place of happy endings, where fame is not a burden but a blessing, and the celebrities' cliché about fans bothering them during dinner is exposed for what it really is: Which is to say, no bother at all. "If I'm just sitting in a restaurant, and I've ordered my food, and I'm just talking?" says Puckett, far and away the most recognizable resident of Minnesota. "That's no problem."
What's one more autograph when you've just signed 15,000 baseball cards, to be given to young fans at the Twins-Oakland A's game this Saturday night?
Self-deprecation is the norm around Puckett Place. He likes to eat—the 5'9", 223-pound Puckett has always resembled a reflection in a fun-house mirror—so he happily appeared on David Letterman's show on May 9 to read the Top 10 Ways to Mispronounce Kirby Puckett (No. 7: "Turkey Bucket"). When asked to look forward to the retirement of his uniform number 34 in a ceremony this Sunday at the Dome, Puckett says, "It's the last thing I ever thought I'd see." Far from sounding mock-modest, the words are literally true.
For Puckett is now completely blind in his right eye, which is discolored and half-hooded by his eyelid. This, after five surgeries over 3½ months last year in an unsuccessful effort to arrest the glaucoma that would force him to retire last July 12, at the age of 35.
He still has [20/20] vision in his left eye, and doctors say that he can expect to retain normal sight in that eye for as long as he lives. In the meantime he does everything he ever did, with one exception. "The one thing I can't do," says Puckett, "is what I loved to do all my life—play baseball."
This was supposed to be the cruel, O. Henry ending to Puckett's story—the concert pianist who loses his fingers—an occasion for self-pity and anger. The trouble is, these emotions don't exist in Puckett. "Who do I get mad at?" he asks, as if considering the question for the first time. "You tell me, is there anybody in particular?"