ORLANDO, Fla. -- David Ortiz remembers the first time he ever watched a major-league game on TV in full detail, when he was a little boy still living in the Dominican Republic. But more than the action itself, Ortiz mostly remembers the player who had the biggest impact on him, the reason why he decided he wanted to play baseball when he grew up.
"Kirby Puckett. That was the player who got my attention since the first day I saw him on TV," Ortiz told ESPNdeportes.com before Tuesday's game between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. "It was in the 1987 World Series. Back then, I was 11 years old. Since then, Puckett has been my favorite."
Puckett, a former outfielder and a member of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, died Monday, a day after suffering a stroke. He was 45 years old.
Puckett underwent surgery after suffering the stroke Sunday morning at his home in Arizona.
"It is shocking news, and proof of how fragile the human being is," said Ortiz.
Puckett guided the Twins to World Series wins in 1987 and 1991 before glaucoma cut short his career. The problem, which caused him to go blind in one eye, forced the center fielder and 10-time All-Star to retire in 1996 after 12 seasons with the Twins. He finished with a .318 average.
"Puckett was an established player, a role model," said Ortiz, who entered the major leagues in 1992 when he joined the Seattle Mariners.
Big Papi was traded to Minnesota in 1996, one year after Puckett retired, and made his big-league debut in 1997. The Dominican has been with the Red Sox since 2003, winning the World Series in 2004.
"I never got the chance to play with him, but I got to know him after that," said Ortiz.
Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.