Throughout 2017, Minnesota Public Radio will celebrate 50 years on the air by sharing highlights from our archives, connecting Minnesota's past to its present. | This interview originally aired as part of the Voices of Minnesota series in 1998.
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This weekend, the Minnesota Twins will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the team that won the World Series in 1987.
Many of the players who were on that team are gathering in Minneapolis for a reunion. But they will be missing their on-field leader, Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.
Puckett died in 2006 after suffering a stroke. In 1998 Puckett was interviewed for MPR's Voices of Minnesota series. He said part of what made that 1987 Twins team so special was how close-knit all the players were.
"We went out on the road, I mean after games you'd see like 14 or 15 of us at the same place eating together," Puckett said. "You don't do that now ... We knew we were going to be around each other all year and we loved being around each other."
After the team won, Puckett said he couldn't believe what had happened. The feeling stuck with him while he watched people celebrating in the streets right after the game and all the celebrations that followed. "A lot of guys don't get to do this," he said.
Puckett also talked about his early life growing up in a housing project on the south side of Chicago — and how being the baby in a family with eight older siblings made him tough.
"I had to take a lot of whoopings but I mean, that was just part of the program. Where I grew up you had to take your beatings and go on, and if you bounce back from it you're going to be a nice, stronger person, but if you didn't you'd kind of be lost in the shuffle somewhere," Puckett said. "And I always considered myself a survivor."
Nobody pushed Puckett towards baseball, he was simply drawn to the sport after seeing it played on TV.
"When I was 7 or 8 years old I would sit down and watch a whole baseball game. Do you know how boring that is as a kid?" he said.
But he loved the sport; playing against the walls of buildings in his neighborhood as a child and finally joining an organized league as a freshman in high school.
The slightly unorthodox practice he got playing in alleys in his youth helped contribute to his stellar hitting style. But it's not something he was able to pass on.
"It wasn't an art, it's not something that I try to teach my son or try to teach other guys in this organization," he said. "What I did was different and I was successful with it because I'd done it all my life."