MINNEAPOLIS -- Kirby Puckett is here in spirit at All-Star week -- and beyond.
He is here in the form of smiles on so many Twins fans around these parts who treasure his memory, in the stories people like Tom Kelly are telling this week, and most importantly, in that inimitable smile that is larger than life on the sides of the new Kirby Puckett Eye Mobile.
In a tribute to the late Hall of Famer, who spent his entire career in Minnesota from 1984-95 before losing his vision in one eye, the Kirby Puckett Eye Mobile was unveiled on Friday at the Minneapolis Convention Center as the first and only mobile eye clinic in the Twin Cities region.
With two fully equipped exam rooms on board, it's like an eye doctor's office on wheels. It is owned, operated and staffed by Phillips Eye Institute, part of Allina Health. The motorcoach-sized vehicle was parked outside T-Mobile All-Star FanFest as Major League Baseball, the host Twins and Phillips Eye Institute added this dedication event to the unprecedented and ongoing All-Star Legacy Project.
"It's really important, because people come out to see," Kirby Puckett Jr. said. "They always remember my dad and this is one of the great memories they have of him -- going around helping people that are in need. People that can get eye screenings, that's going to be a good thing for the community."
"I just think it's wonderful," said Catherine, Puckett's daughter, who sat beside her brother during the ceremony. "All of the good things that he has left for everybody, to be able to take care of kids who need to get their eyes checked. Just the simplest thing is going to help so many people. We are so proud to be here. He would be proud of this. It just feels special and honored to be here."
The legend's two children were joined at the event by Kelly, who managed Puckett over a storied tenure with the Twins; Twins owner Jim Pohlad and president Dave St. Peter; Dr. Dan Conrad, president of Phillips Eye Institute; and Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business. Now-retired Twins broadcaster John Gordon emceed the event.
"Major League Baseball sent me a package in the wintertime, and it had numerous things to mark off -- what would I like to be doing during All-Star week, [because] they really wanted me to be part of it," Kelly said. "My wife and I were reading along, going through so many things, and then when the Kirby Pucket Eye Mobile stared me in the face, that made it all so easy. We put a big check on that one.
"Kirby did so much for me and my family, we could never repay that. We went back a long way, all the way back to Clearwater, Fla., when he was first starting out as a player. ... He made me better, he made his teammates better and he certainly made baseball better in the Upper Midwest -- two world championships, wonderful memories. And he's still continuing on now to make things better."
Indeed, after the rest of the baseball world departs the Twin Cities following the 85th Midsummer Classic on Tuesday, the Kirby Puckett Eye Mobile will become a prominent feature in the community. On Wednesday, it will be launched with a free vision screening event for the public, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. CT at the Midtown Exchange, 2925 Chicago Ave., in Minneapolis. Then it will become a familiar site within the school districts, providing exams to students as well as free glasses. It is all part of Phillips Eye Institute's Early Youth Eyecare (E.Y.E.) program, which the Twins are backing.
"Poor vision is a roadblock to student learning," Conrad said. "It also affects quality of life, threatens the ability to live independently and contributes to costly and life-changing falls in the elderly.
"Many people do not have access to good vision care because of cost, lack of transportation or other challenges. By providing free vision screenings and comprehensive eye exams to those in need, the Kirby Puckett Eye Mobile can help address all of these problems."
It was impossible not to let your mind wander and think about the indelible moments Puckett provided. What does Kelly remember most about the player who made that amazing catch and hit a walk-off homer in the classic Game 6 win over Atlanta in the seminal 1991 World Series?
"Kirby Puckett had a wonderful smile," Kelly said. "He had a charisma, an aura about him. He was not the prototypical baseball player, where he's 6-foot-2 and cut. He was a short, roly-poly-type guy. I think he identified with the fan base immediately. They recognized his hustle -- he'd run all the balls out, he'd catch every ball with two hands in the outfield, none of that one-handed catch stuff.
"He had fun. He played the game with passion. It immediately gravitated to the fans. He always had a good look on his face and had that charisma for the game that makes him very special. And it made it very easy for people to grab onto. This is why he became such a favorite. Plus he could play. He was such a good player, he could do so many things. ... He was special."
For Kirby Puckett Jr., his father still is special and still leaves an inspirational message in spirit.
"Follow your dream and don't follow others if they aren't doing the right thing," the younger Puckett said. "Stick to what you want to do and you'll be all right."
The 85th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again allow fans to help choose the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com and via Twitter in the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Pepsi, and their collective voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
MLB.TV Premium subscribers, for the first time, will be able to live stream the All-Star Game via MLB.TV through FOX's participating video providers. Access will be available across more than 400 platforms that support MLB.TV, including the award-winning MLB.com At Bat app. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.