Shock, dismay at news of Puckett

Shock, dismay at news of Puckett

FORT MYERS, Fla.-- Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett, one of the most beloved players to ever don a Twins uniform, suffered a stroke Sunday morning at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home.

Puckett, 45, was transported to Scottsdale Memorial Hospital and later airlifted to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborne where he underwent surgery, the Twins announced.

A nursing supervisor at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix told The Associated Press that the former Twins center fielder was in critical condition. She did not provide additional details.

Puckett had surgery to drain blood and relieve pressure resulting from bleeding in the brain, the The Star-Tribune of Minneapolis reported.

The mood around the Twins complex on Sunday was decidedly somber as players and staff learned about Puckett's stroke. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was informed of the news about Puckett by Al Newman, the Twins former third base coach. Newman, a close friend of Puckett's, was at the game as a scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"We did the best we could today and the game was whatever -- it was a game," Gardenhire said. "Our hearts and prayers are all with Puck and his family and we're all waiting like everyone else is to see how everything turns out. We're hoping for the best and we know it's a tough situation going on out there."

The Twins' first-round draft pick in 1982, Puckett spent 12 years in Minnesota before his career was cut short in 1996 when glaucoma caused him to lose sight in his right eye. He was a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2001.

The Spring Training game that the Twins were hosting against the Red Sox quickly became an afterthought for many. Torii Hunter, who had been scheduled to start the game, was removed from the lineup because he was too upset to play. During the early part of his career, Hunter had looked to Puckett as one of his biggest mentors.

"It's an unfortunate situation," left fielder Shannon Stewart said. "I'm sure it hit Torii hard, it would have done that to me if it was a guy that helped me along my way in my career. The things that Kirby has done for him were probably more than words can explain."

Another player that Puckett impacted was former Twins outfielder Jacque Jones, who is now with the Chicago Cubs. Jones was in contact with Hunter and his former team on Sunday from Cubs camp in Arizona, and talking to Puckett's fiancée, Jodi Olson, to get updates on his condition.

"He's a big part of the reason I play this game," Jones said. "He's the reason I play it the way I play it. He's a great person. We all learned from him, me, Torii, Matt Lawton, LaTroy [Hawkins]."

"Our hearts and prayers are all with Puck and his family and we're all waiting like everyone else is to see how everything turns out. We're hoping for the best and we know it's a tough situation going on out there."
-- Ron Gardenhire

Former Twins player and WCCO radio analyst Dan Gladden was scheduled to broadcast the game but left Hammond Stadium before the game began to try and catch a flight to Phoenix to be with his friend.

Tom Kelly was Puckett's manager for the final 10 years of the 10-time All-Star's career. He was visibly upset by the news as he left the Twins clubhouse Sunday afternoon.

"It's obviously distressing news," Kelly said. "We had a doctor come in and explain probably what's going to happen. The last thing [the doctor] said was that if he has good luck, things will hopefully work out. So let's hope he has some good luck."

Despite all of the players knowing what was going on, no formal meeting was held to announce the news of the stroke to the team. Gardenhire didn't want to talk about a situation where he didn't have all the facts present.

"We're all trying to find out as much as we possibly can," Gardenhire said. "There have been lots of bits and pieces but nothing substantial to find out what's really happening. We want to find out what's going on before we make any announcements."

The emotional reaction to Puckett's stroke wasn't limited to the Twins as ballclubs throughout the Major Leagues expressed concern. Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin spoke for many of the teams when he said that his thoughts were with the Hall of Fame player.

"Everybody who's played against Kirby or knows him is saddened," Melvin said. "Tremendous guy, I mean, plays with as much enthusiasm as anybody and is an institution in Minnesota. I know Kirby and our prayers are with him."

There had been concerns for Puckett's health over the past few years. The former slugger continued to put on weight since retiring. The weight gain was especially alarming considering Puckett's family history of heart disease. The player has lost many of his family members before the age of 50 to various health problems.

"The last few times I saw him, he just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger," Twins great Tony Oliva said.

"We were all concerned," Jones said of Puckett's weight. "A man's going to be a man, a woman's going to be a woman. You can't change what they're going to do unless they want to change. He enjoyed life, he enjoyed the size he was. That's who he was. You can't do anything about it until he decides to change. Hopefully this will be a wakeup call and he'll change some things."

It has been a while since many in the organization have seen Puckett. He dropped out of the public light after his 2003 acquittal of assault charges involving a woman at a Twins Cities restaurant. One of his last public outings in the area came a year ago when he attended former Twins announcer Bob Casey's wake. Gardenhire last saw Puckett at Harmon Killebrew's golf outing in Arizona this past November.

"He said he was doing better," Gardenhire said. "He talked about being on a diet, working out, getting to feeling better, and talked of getting married in June. It was fun to see him again."

Puckett hasn't been involved with the team as closely over the past few years, but retained some close friendships with many in the organization. There were unsuccessful attempts to have him at this year's Spring Training as a special instructor.

"It doesn't change ... no matter when or where you see Puck, when he comes around everything is brightened up," Gardenhire said. "Now we are just all hoping that he gets through this thing OK."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.