Twins to honor Puckett at Metrodome ceremony

3/8/2006 - MLB Minnesota Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins needed a big building for a tribute to Kirby Puckett. It was only natural they'd choose the Metrodome, where Puckett won the hearts of so many fans.

The Twins announced plans to honor Puckett in a free public ceremony Sunday evening at the stadium, with testimonials from family, friends and current and former Twins, along with video highlights of his life and career. The family plans a private ceremony earlier that day.

Puckett, the Hall of Famer who led the Twins to two World Series titles, died Monday in Arizona, a day after suffering a stroke. He was 45.

The Twins played their first game following Puckett's death at their home spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday. Puckett's No. 34 was stenciled outside the first- and third-base lines, flags flew at half-staff and fans and players observed a moment of silence before a game against Cincinnati.

In separate interviews with Twin Cities newspapers, Puckett's former wife and his fiancee said he was happy in retirement.

"I do want people to know that Kirby was a very happy man and that retirement gave him the opportunity to do things he always wanted to do," Jodi Olson, who had planned to marry Puckett in June, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. "He was just ready to live the rest of his life."

His former wife, Tonya Puckett, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that she and their teen children, Catherine and Kirby Jr., were with Kirby Puckett until the end. They divorced in 2002.

"It's not so much the memories," she said. "There were a lot of people that loved Kirby, and I loved Kirby with all of my heart.

"And I just want people to say nice things, because I am at peace with Kirby. I know there's been a lot of stuff in the news and in the paper listing all of the things. I just want people to say nice things about my children's father, because they love him," she said.

She said her family's strong faith played a part in allowing doctors to take her former husband off life support.

"In the end, God works things out," she said. "You certainly believe in miracles, but when the doctors are saying that they are not optimistic, you have to be realistic. ... You just have to be at peace. I believe Kirby is at peace, and he wasn't in any pain. And that would have been the way he wanted it to be."

Tonya Puckett said her ex-husband believed in organ donation, and hospital officials were checking to see what was possible.

"I just know there are eight organs, one of which might be a match for his sister, Jackie," she said, adding that Jackie, who lives outside Chicago, has kidney disease.

"I don't know the other organs they have [potentially] found matches for," she said. "It's just amazing. That's how my life with him was. He always made it happen, found a way to let somebody benefit; made some good out of everything, even in his death. How can you top that?"

Kirby Puckett's 12-year baseball career was cut short in 1996 by glaucoma. In recent years, Puckett had become overweight. Still, he remained upbeat, Olson said.

Olson, who was to marry Kirby Puckett on June 24, said she and Puckett were happy and "entering the next chapter in our lives."

Olson said Puckett wasn't bitter or reclusive.

"He certainly didn't give up on baseball. He watched it constantly," she said.

Olson said Puckett had been working out with a personal trainer at their house in Scottsdale, Ariz., to prepare for the wedding.

"I know a lot of articles have come out questioning whether his weight was the reason for this," she said. "And his weight had absolutely nothing to do with this.

"There were no signs, whatsoever, that this could happen," she said. "He told me he loved me as soon as he woke up in the morning [Sunday], and it all happened in a split second."

Olson said she called 911 and rode in the ambulance with Puckett but was not able to communicate with him. She said he never regained consciousness.

Olson said she wanted people to know that Puckett loved his children and that he had become close to her son, Cameron. She said she was thankful for the support of Tonya Puckett.

"Tonya has been truly wonderful through this," Olson said. "I'm very close to his siblings. He was very close to my family. Which, sometimes, people think is uncommon. But it was one big happy family."