Celebrating my Kirby Puckett birthday

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

It was my birthday this weekend. Nothing special. Let’s not get all worked up about it. My new age doesn’t end in a zero or a five. The year is indistinct: one of those years after I’m young, before I’m old, while I’m still alive.

At least, that’s what I’d say if I weren’t raised in the great state of Minnesota during the 1980s and ‘90s. I’m turning 34. It’s my Kirby Puckett birthday.

As I think you might know (or certainly *should* know) Hall of Fame baseball player Kirby Puckett wore the number 34 throughout his career as center fielder for the Minnesota Twins, anchoring the lineup during the Twins only World Series championships in 1987 and 1991. I was 7 and 11, respectively, those years. Those are very important years in the life of a boy and I can only imagine how adrift the Minnesota youth of today must feel the way the Twins have played lately.

The Minnesota Twins of those years were scrappy, underestimated and tremendously fun to watch. They sold me the notion that underdogs can and should win, a notion that’s been troublesome in other parts of my life but that I wouldn’t give up for anything.

Everyone loved Kirby Puckett. He was the star. But my favorite player was Kent Hrbek, the first baseman, and his number, 14, remains my “favorite number” to this day. I liked Hrbek because he conveyed the notion that you can be a little bit fat and good at baseball. I was a little bit fat as a kid and, though I was never good at baseball, I did become good at … well, radio. And blogging, even though I couldn’t have known that at the time.

Basically, these guys looked like guys I knew. Yet, they circled the bases with ease: conquering warriors in bright white uniforms over the strange artificial green turf of the Metrodome. Indeed, all things were possible, are possible, remain possible in Minnesota.

When I was a kid my bike lock combination was 34-14. Just remember: Puckett, Hrbek. How could I forget? In third grade, I picked the number 14 — the number my teacher Mr. Olson was thinking of — and got to play chess after my work was done. Just this week I drew the number 14 in my family’s Christmas dice game and ended up with a nice shirt. If someone’s phone number includes “34” in any sequence, I remember it shorthand as “something-something-Kirby Puckett-something.” These numbers are good to me.

So, I just turned 34 and am about to live the year 2014 with that age attached to the end of my name. I’ll celebrate my 14th wedding anniversary, the Kent Hrbek anniversary, in August and I’m already salivating over the meat and cheese tray that must surely be custom for such an occasion. It’s the Year of Hrbek in the Age of Puckett. The Minnesota Twins aren’t favored to win anything next summer, so excuse me while I bet my life savings on them to win everything.

Why do these numbers matter? They shouldn’t, right? It’s all just part of the randomness of the universe. Isn’t the entire exercise of competitive sports dominated by fate. Sure, playing baseball or doing anything in this world involves skill, but 9 times out of ten Kirby doesn’t make that catch against the old plexiglass in center field. Nine times out of ten that Charlie Leibrandt pitch drops down an inch for the strikeout. Ron Gant probably had a case that Kent Hrbek lifted him off the base for the out in Game 2, but that’s not what the umpire called. The things happened and that’s how they are forever.

34. 14. These numbers are not random.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. Loved this essay. My daughter is your age, but I hadn’t thought of Puckett. I just thought just how old that makes me. But Puckett makes me think of my son. He’ll soon be 30. He still remembers those two world series. He recently told me how upset he was to be made to go to bed when he was just a sprout for the first one. BUT considering how “upsetting” he could be when tired, I don’t blame his mom (me) for sending him to bed. I’ve been a life long bb fan. I remember the Braves in the WS when I was in first grade in Milwaukee. However, these last two seasons……sigh.

  2. Larry Gavin says

    Wonderful little essay. I heard it on my way home from Red Lake on Saturday. I was struck by how simple, funny, and charming it was. they may be the three toughest things to do when writing. Outstanding work.

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