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Don’t have sports idols

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As a Twins fan raised in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Kirby Puckett taught me a lesson. Now it seems we’re learning it all over again.

Photo by David Sherman/Getty Images

One of my earliest memories is watching the Twins play the Tigers in the 1987 ALCS. I wasn’t but two and a half some years old at the time, and really had no idea what the hell was happening. I didn’t understand baseball. All I knew was that there was a guy named Kirby Puckett, he was my favorite baseball player ever, and I knew who he was because I could easily pick him out among all the other small-butted players on the TV.

The specific memory I have, though, is watching Kirby foul off a bunch of pitches, except at that age I did not understand the concept of a foul ball. All I understood was “three strikes and you’re out”... except Kirby wasn’t out? I asked my parents why Kirby wasn’t out, and rather than precisely explaining what was happening (bless their hearts), they told me, “Because Kirby is special.”

So that’s the story about how I thought for at least a year of my life that Kirby Puckett just got as many pitches as he wanted because he was Kirby Puckett — my idol.

Of course, later I learned that my idol was actually a monster.

An article by Frank Deford and George Dohrmann published in Sports Illustrated in 2003 was the seminal power punch to Kirby’s reputation. By then we knew he was seemingly never faithful to his wife, nor mistress, nor many other his side pieces. He told his mistress he actually resented having to visit sick children in the hospital. He referred to his wife as the B-word for a female dog, and threatened to kill her many times. He locked his wife in the basement. He tried to strangle her with an electrical cord. One time, when she locked herself inside a room to get away from him, Kirby cut down the door with an electrical saw to get to her. He also once cocked a gun and put it on her head while she held their daughter, shaking.

Kirby Puckett was a monster.

Kirby Puckett is also still my favorite baseball player of all time. He’s still the number one reason (besides my Mom) why I love baseball. He always will be. I can’t change that.

Does that make me feel good? Not particularly. Do I think people should give Kirby Puckett a pass because of his baseball stardom? Absolutely not, which is a point I hope I just obviously made in the large paragraph above that laid out just a handful of his horrendous transgressions.

Have I reconciled my love for Puckett as a baseball player with the monster he turned out to be? I haven’t. I, just like many other Twins fans, still grapple with the dichotomy.

I wish I had a neat little answer to all of this I could tie up here in a verbal bow, but I don’t. Honestly, I was sort of hoping some epiphany would come to me in the midst of writing this, but it didn’t. I’m sorry. I also think that is, unfortunately, sort of the way life works. It sucks, bad — but at least sometimes you get to read an old Sports Illustrated article and remember someone once described Kirby Puckett as "a cantaloupe with legs” and laugh for about five straight minutes.

All of this is to say — Miguel Sano obviously fucked up. He’s not the first professional athlete to fuck up. He won’t be the last athlete to fuck up. And by “fuck up” I don’t mean this was just a light-hearted mistake — Miguel Sano shattered the image most of us Twins fans had of him. He shattered the image of him as the young, underdog teenager in the 2011 documentary “Ballplayer: Pelotero”. It makes me so upset, because I wanted Sano to be the next great Twin. I think we all did. I still wish... he could be the next great Twin? But I also don’t. I don’t know. I just know I feel awful about all of it, just like me continuing to love Kirby Puckett. I don’t know what to feel. “Awful,” though, has a nice ring to it. I hate it. I still cry every time I see Kirby hit that home run, but it never makes me feel any better.

The only advice I can give anyone is this: don’t have sports idols.*

* Unless they are named Joe Mauer.