Recently I found a picture book from 1993 co-authored by Twins superstar Kirby Puckett, “Be the Best You Can Be.” I read it to Byron, expecting him to be bored by it, but he was quite taken. Perhaps because he is a native Minnesotan, Kirby has captured his imagination.
It is more or less how all of the sports hero autobiographies for kids go — full of confidence-building proverbs. The fact is that Kirby’s story is inspiring. He grew up in one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago, and became a professional athlete despite being (as I explain to Byron) “Daddy’s height and Daddy’s shape.” We learned his faults later, but nobody can deny that Kirby was a good man on the field and in the dugout.
The story I tell Byron is not held to the bounds of the book. The book talks about Kirby’s famous home run from game 6 of the 1991 World Series, but I can tell Byron about the 1987 World Series. I can also tell Byron how Kirby made the Hall of Fame, which happened long after the book was released.
I also tell him that Kirby Puckett died. I explained about the hit-to-the-eye with a baseball, how he couldn’t play any more and stopped taking care of himself. I think his version of the story is that Kirby was hit in the eye with a baseball and died, which isn’t exactly true, but has a certain ring of truthiness.
He continually asks why Kirby Puckett is dead and why he’s not alive. He wants to know if we can go to Chicago and meet him. He also wants new stories about Kirby Puckett every night, and I am happy to comply. These stories aren’t limited to baseball.
For example, even hardcore fans probably don’t know that Kirby had superpowers as a kid–super strength, super jumping power, and super speed. He used these powers to fight crime on the backstreets and wharves of Chicago, including rescuing Ernie Banks from kidnappers and hypnotists working for the White Sox. You probably didn’t know Kirby had a pet hamster (coincidentally named Byron) who was a computer genius and piloted a radio-controlled airplane. You probably didn’t know that later in life Kirby engineered a locomotive and frequently moonlighted at monster truck rallies. Some of you probably know that Kirby was good friends with Spiderman, but they probably don’t know about the time Spiderman’s dog Spider Doggy helped Kirby Puckett foil a heist at the Field Museum masterminded by Al Capone himself.
I’m learning all kinds of stuff.