FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire awoke Monday morning with hope the day would bring good news about his friend and former Twins player Kirby Puckett, who had suffered a massive stroke the day before. When he checked the news at 5 a.m. ET and didn't see anything about Puckett, Gardenhire breathed a sigh of relief as he felt that Puckett may have turned a corner. But it wasn't good news, as Gardenhire soon found out when he arrived at the Twins Spring Training Complex around 7:30 a.m. After hearing the update that Puckett was in critical condition and things weren't looking good, Gardenhire knew that he couldn't manage the club on its road trip for the day so he stayed behind to hear of any news.
It was a long, emotional day for Gardenhire as he and the rest of the Twins family waited for updates on the former player's condition. When the word came late Monday afternoon that Puckett had passed, it was very emotional for the Twins skipper. "It's tough to talk right now," Gardenhire said Monday night, his voice trailing off. The emotion Gardenhire expressed in his lack of words was more than enough to portray just how devastating the loss of Puckett is to the entire Twins organization and legions of fans that grew up watching him. Puckett was the face of the Twins throughout his 12-year-career. Trying to measure exactly how much the Hall of Fame player meant to the organization wasn't an easy task. "It's easy to look at the numbers and the championships and see his impact, but it goes so far beyond that," team president Dave St. Peter said Monday night. "His name is really synonymous with the Twins. He was the signature player for an entire generation and he carried the organization on his back for a long, long time." Dealing with the pain of losing Puckett so early in life wasn't easy, but telling stories of what "Puck" meant to them seemed to help a little bit. Twins general manager Terry Ryan sat in his office and reminisced about the many lunches that took place on that very floor with Puckett during the former player's five years as an executive vice president with the club. "Puck worked with front office for six years, so we all knew him very well personally besides just from his playing days," Ryan said. "He was a big part of our lunch brigade here. Everybody always had a smile on their face when he came in that room." The tears welled up in Ryan's eyes as he continued with the knowledge finally starting to sink in that those lunches would never again occur. "This is difficult because it's way too early for him to go," Ryan said softly. Puckett's numerous awards and accomplishments on the field will be the things listed most frequently in upcoming stories about the player, but for those that knew him best, it's the type of person he was that will stick with them. "The thing you have to remember is, Puckett didn't separate people," Gardenhire said. "Everyone had a chance to be his friend. You could have been star or a Joe off the street, it didn't matter.'' "His work in the community, the relationship he had with the media, his teammates, opponents, and most importantly, the fans, is the legacy he will leave," St. Peter said. "Few have ever been as beloved as Kirby was." With word coming early in the day Puckett's health had deteriorated, the impact on the entire team could be seen immediately. Before even learning of Puckett's passing, the day's somberness could be felt in the Twins clubhouse in Bradenton. The nearly two-hour long bus ride up to the Pirates Spring Training field was nearly silent as many of the coaches took time to reflect on the possibility of losing the player that meant so much to the organization. It was something that seemed to make baseball lose a lot of its meaning, at least for the day. Knowing how much influence Puckett had on the mood of a club when he was a player in Minnesota, it didn't surprise Twins bench coach Steve Liddle, acting as manager for the day, how big an impact Puckett's dire condition had on the team. "During his days here, it was his clubhouse," Liddle said. "If you stepped out of line, Puck was there to deal with you. It was like as a big brother. He was everybody's big brother. And you can see today with how everyone is feeling that he still has that impact on the clubhouse." Minnesota native Glen Perkins, the Twins starting pitcher on Monday, didn't know Puckett personally but grew up watching him. He knows just how much Puckett meant to the entire state and to all Twins fans. "He's someone that will be missed regardless of his impact the past few years," Perkins said. "I know it's a sad day in Minnesota." The respect for Puckett can been seen by the tributes that are already beginning. Rather than broadcast the Twins' Spring Training game against the Yankees in Tampa on Monday, WCCO radio will air a commercial-free tribute to Puckett from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. CT. The tributes to come will show many current Twins players who didn't know Puckett the impact he had on the club. But it still seems to bother Ryan many on the current roster will never have the chance to be impacted by the one-of-a-kind player. "A lot of young players we have on this club didn't know him and weren't around him," Ryan said. "He had so much to offer. Those guys didn't have the opportunity to see how he went through a day and the way that he carried himself. He had a way of making people better just by being down here in a uniform for about a month. We are truly going to miss him."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.