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Reardon awaits reunion with '87 Twins teammates

MINNEAPOLIS -- One of Jeff Reardon's most treasured memories
is captured in a picture, showing son Shane with a smiling Kirby
Puckett.

"He was my son's favorite. Kirby was everyone's favorite,"
Reardon said.

When players and coaches from the 1987 Minnesota Twins gather
this weekend for the 20th anniversary of the team's first World
Series title, the late Puckett will be missed.

Shane Reardon won't be there, either. His death from a drug
overdose at age 20 in February 2004 sent his father down a dark
path that he's still walking.

The reunion should be another step toward recovery, an escape
from the despair that still lingers over his life. Old teammates
like Gary Gaetti and Kent Hrbek were looking forward to hanging out
and catching up with him. Reardon was eager to reflect on the good
times, too, especially that ninth inning of the seventh game of the
'87 series against St. Louis.

When Cardinals batter Willie McGee hit a bouncer to third base,
Gaetti grabbed it and fired to Hrbek at first for the out. Reardon
got the save, and the Twins began a wild celebration in the noisy
Metrodome where they were so tough to beat on the artificial turf
under the Teflon-coated ceiling.

"It was the best year I had in baseball," Reardon said this
week by phone from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where he lives and
spends most of his time with wife Phebe, son Jay and daughter
Kristi.

They've helped him through the pain, a process that bottomed out
the day after Christmas in 2005 when he went to run an errand.

Under the influence of 12 prescription medications for his
depression, Reardon walked into a jewelry store, handed an employee
a note that falsely claimed he had a gun, and walked out with $170.
Reardon was eventually found not guilty of the robbery charge by
reason of insanity, but when a four-time All-Star who ranks sixth
on baseball's all-time list with 367 saves is arrested for robbery,
it becomes national news.

Reardon said he wasn't worried about what people who didn't hear
the whole story might think about him. The fans in Minnesota were
so supportive that he expected nothing less than a warm reception.

"Anybody who knows me knows that wasn't me. I'm sure they've
heard about it, but that was not Jeff Reardon," he said.

Gaetti is now the hitting coach for the Durham Bulls, the
Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He last ran into
Reardon when he was in Florida for spring training with St. Louis
in 1996, staying in an apartment near where Reardon lives.

"What a good guy, too," Gaetti said. "I hope that's all in
his past, man. What a tough thing to have to go through."

Reardon still closely follows the Twins and the Boston Red Sox,
two of the seven teams he pitched for over 16 seasons while
compiling a 3.16 ERA. He was touched when his son's funeral was
attended by Puckett, Bert Blyleven, Dan Gladden and other
ex-teammates. Clearly, the 51-year-old native of Massachusetts has
a spot for Minnesota in his heart.

"Hopefully we can make him feel good about coming back. It's
sad to see what happened to him and his family, but it sounds like
things are on the up a little bit for him," said Hrbek, who still
lives in the suburb, Bloomington, where he grew up and now hosts a
local television show, Kent Hrbek Outdoors.

Twenty players, plus coaches and front office people, from the
1987 team were expected to be present at the Metrodome for three
days of autograph sessions, photo ops, highlight videos and
handshakes.

A re-enactment of the victory parade has been scheduled before
Saturday night's game against the Texas Rangers. Gaetti will be
inducted into the team's Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon.

It won't be the same without Puckett, the Hall of Fame center
fielder who hit .332 with 28 homers and 99 RBIs in 1987.

They had only two solid starters in Frank Viola and Blyleven,
the bullpen had some holes, and they hit only .261 as a team --
finishing 85-77 on top of a weak division. But they had plenty of
power, plenty of spunk and that obvious home-field advantage,
enough fuel for a group of young players entering their prime with
Puckett leading the way.

"Even though I'd say it was the best all-around team, with
everybody contributing, Kirby was a step above everyone. Especially
with the crowd," Reardon said. "But he deserved to be. I always
classify him as the nicest superstar I ever played with, and I
played with a lot of them."