Like Ripken, Puckett is throwback


Cal Ripken and Kirby Puckett are throwbacks to an era when players stayed with one team their entire careers, and became a symbol of the city where they put on the home uniform.

Ripken and Puckett have played only for the teams that drafted them. They came up through the minor leagues with the organization and are now permanent fixtures in Baltimore and Minneapolis, respectively.

These similarities are the foundation of a strong friendship between the perennial All-Stars.

"Me, Cal and Eddie [Murray] have the same agent, Ron Shapiro," Puckett said before last night's game. "I came on late. I've only been with him for nine years, but Cal and I have become good friends in that time. We've got a lot in common."

Ripken still recalls their introduction more than a decade ago, when a gregarious Twins rookie was hanging around during batting practice.

"It was more than just having Shapiro as our agent that started our friendship," Ripken said. "It was Kirby's personality. I remember when he first came up, he would just start talking around the batting cages. I got to really start to know him at some of the All-Star events. He's a tremendous guy."

The players renew their friendship mostly at baseball functions, and when their teams play each other. They spend the off-season with their families, which does not leave much time for cross country visits.

"You take your time with friends as it comes," Ripken said. "My friendship with Kirby is great because we just pick up where we left off. It doesn't matter how long it has been since I've seen him."

Ripken and Puckett are part of a dwindling group of players who have spent their entire careers with the same team. Don Mattingly of the Yankees, Tony Gwynn of the Padres and Roger Clemens of the Red Sox are among the others.

Puckett explains the demise of the one-team player like a professor teaching Baseball Economics 101. "Life is all about free markets and free enterprise," Puckett said. "If you're doing a job here and someone wants your services somewhere else, why shouldn't you be able to go?"

But a fraternity has formed among the Pucketts, Ripkens and Mattinglys. They are sought out for advice by teammates and opponents.

"You can relate to those guys really well," Ripken said. "I don't know if I'd necessarily call it a bond between us, but there is mutual admiration and respect. They're all great players and great guys off the field. They're guys I love talking to and getting together with."

If Puckett has his way, he'll have more in common with Ripken than just an agent and a one-team career. He is aiming for the record books as well.

Ripken has the consecutive-games streak in sight and Puckett, 34, is aiming for 3,000 career hits. He is nearly 800 short.

"I can't even imagine how Cal can play every day," Puckett said. "I'm kind of amazed by it. But, for me, the ultimate is 3,000 hits."

Puckett already has experienced the 3,000-hit thrill twice, when his friends Dave Winfield and Murray hit the milestone at the Metrodome.

"I got to see Dave Winfield get his 3,000th hit. I was on third and I scored the run. I was in the outfield when Eddie got his hit.

"I was there! Not too many people get to see that once, but I've seen it two times. That is something special."

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