Editor’s Note: This piece originally ran in December, but we’re re-running it because Barry Larkin deserves it.
In a few weeks, something wonderful should happen: Barry LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s election to the Hall of Fame. The statistical arguments have been made. LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s do something else today.
When Larkin was brought up in August of 1986 and given the job at shortstop, I had just turned 6. When he retired at the end of 2004, I was 24. He was the only shortstop the Reds had ever had. There were injuries, of course, but in every year I could remember, it was Larkin I expected to see at short.
And it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t as though he was one of those players who just hang on for years and years. He was wonderful to watch. At short, at bat, on the bases. He was good at everything.
I remember 1990 when he helped lead the team to the series. I remember 2000 when he got a standing ovation every at bat and vetoed a trade to the Mets. I wanted him to veto the trade, even if it might have been better for the Reds. I remember when they paid him too much at the end of that year. I was glad he would still be a Red, even if it did cost too much.
I was extremely close to my paternal grandfather. The sports gene skipped a generation in my family so it was him and not my dad who taught me about baseball. My first memory is the hazy image of an opponent lining a hit into left field against the Reds while I sat on my grandfatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lap in his worn recliner watching the game. He died when I was 7, so he gets to stay perfect forever. I never had to learn about his flaws or be disappointed in him. He saw Larkin play.
And thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what baseball is. As much as people like me spend time parsing numbers and arguing about the value of a contract or who should get playing time, we watch because it reminds us of everything we ever wanted.
We are children on a field with our fathers and grandfathers. With our mothers and grandmothers.
We are alone in the yard, tossing a ball into the air and catching it until itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s too dark to see.
We are in the crowd cheering for our favorite player who is perfect and will be perfect whether he comes through or not.
Baseball has its warts, we all know that. But sometimes we need to forget about them. We need to remember when we were young and it was pure and perfect. We need to remember what it was like to watch our favorite player scoop the ball and throw it smoothly to first.Ã‚Â We need to remember this movement. This poetry connects us to those who came before us. They watched the same thing. Marveled in the same way.
When it is spring and everyone is in first place. When it is June and your team is rolling. When it is October and you breathe the sacred air of a World Series. When it is winter and you ponder the next season and then hear that yes, finally, it happened. They let him in. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in the club.
In these moments, baseball is everything we wanted it to be. Everything we wanted life to be. This is what I will be thinking about when Barry Larkin gets the call: My grandfather teaching me about hits and runs. My dad playing catch with me into the dusk after a twelve-hour shift.Ã‚Â Taking my infant daughter to her first game and wondering which player might one day connect us.
A crowd cheering. Begging the hometown hero to stay.
LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hear what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be thinking about.