In spring training last year, Twins batting coach Tony Oliva, a three-time AL batting champion, told Puckett that even with his success as an opposite-field singles hitter (.296 and .288 average in his first two seasons), he could do better if he learned how to jerk the tight pitches and use the whole field. Oliva moved Puckett closer to the plate and got him to turn hard on balls inside while still keeping his compact, precise stroke on pitches away.
"If he hadn't had all those home runs early, he might have gone back to the old way," says Oliva. "Now it's easy. He knows he can pull the ball."
Moreover, maturity and weight training had finally turned Puckett the runt into Puckett the pit bull. Though listed at 185 pounds, he played last season at a substantial 205. "You look at him," said 1986 Twins manager Ray Miller, "and you think he's a fat little kid. You touch him, and he's like concrete."
This season there may be a tad of lard amid the mortar. At the end of spring training Puckett tipped in at 218 pounds, though now he's below 210. "Sometimes I wish I hadn't lifted so much," he says with a sigh, rubbing his belly. "If I stop, I'll turn into a fat slob."
But the girth hasn't noticeably slowed him—he's second on the Twins in stolen bases with six—and it has enabled him to move up from a 31-ounce bat to a 33-ouncer and now even fiddle around with a grand 35-ounce, 35-inch club.
The added pounds and extra ounces may just mean more of a good thing. "What you've got now is the complete ballplayer," says Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda, who watches Puckett each spring. "Speed, defense, arm, power, average. Plus he's a great human being."
"Hi! Welcome to The Kirby Puckett Report" says the centerfielder for the sixth time this morning, smiling to the camera pointed at him in the Twins locker room. It's time for Puckett's weekly sports show, but teammates keep sabotaging his performance. "Cut," says the producer. "Let's try it again."
"What's this for, the Ebony/Jet channel?" yells catcher Tim Laudner, who is white. "Can I get on?"
"Cut," says the producer.