Sunday, July 22, 2012

Larkin induction a time to celebrate as Reds fans

Cooperstown has plenty of red this week, thanks to Barry Larkin.

The idyllic streets of Cooperstown, N.Y. typically have a quaint, quiet atmosphere typical of many small towns across America. About this time every year, however, those streets come alive with the energy of the nation’s pastime.

This weekend, Cooperstown has been painted red – Cincinnati red, that is. They’ve come from far and wide, nearly all proudly wearing Reds colors up and down the streets of town. Spend just a few minutes on Main Street and it’s clear – for this special weekend anyhow, Cooperstown has become Reds Country.

Watching the fans pour in and out of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the many shops in town, a familiar number is seen over and over again – 11.

It brings me back to another time and place dominated by a sea of fans wearing Cincinnati red – it’s 1996, and I’m stepping through the gates of Riverfront Stadium for the first time as a kid with my parents. One of the first things I notice on the field is that number 11. As a youngster with dreams of being a shortstop myself, Barry Larkin is larger than life, a living legend.

Larkin's memorabilia case inside the Hall of Fame.
For countless Reds fans like myself, this weekend is extra special as we have the opportunity to watch a player we’ve connected with for so long enshrined into baseball immortality. A generation of fans grew up watching Larkin play shortstop as well as anyone else in the game. Another generation of fans watched as the Reds transitioned from one of the game’s greats at the position in Dave Concepcion to another in Larkin.

Larkin left Reds fans with a treasure trove of memories – the 12 All-Star seasons, the 1990 World Series year, the 1995 MVP campaign just scratching the surface. The .295 lifetime average, 198 home runs, 960 RBIs and .968 fielding percentage only tell part of how great of a player Larkin was. Reds fans that watched him grace Riverfront, and then Great American Ballpark, can truly appreciate just how much the hometown boy truly deserves a spot among the legends of the game.

Walking along the halls of the Cooperstown museum gives a chance to fully appreciate what this honor means for a player. The plaques with the likenesses of such names as Aaron, Clemente, Cobb, Gehrig, Koufax, Mathewson and Ruth gives visitors pause as the realization settles of how hard it is to reach this stage.

Just a short walk down the street also shows what a privilege it is. There, another Cincinnati legend can be seen signing autographs for fans, but unable to take his spot among the Hall’s membership.

Of course, Pete Rose is in Cooperstown again this weekend, waiting, for his own chance to join the immortal club. Inside the Hall of Fame are several artifacts from his career – bats, balls and uniforms from Cincinnati, Montreal and Philadelphia. The irony of his commemoration and exclusion in the same space while he sits just mere yards away might be the most glaring observation for any Reds fan on this weekend.

But while Rose continues to wait, this is not a weekend to contemplate the what if – it’s a time of celebration for anyone who loves the Reds.

Larkin and Cubs' great Ron Santo are the men of honor this week.
Larkin shares this weekend, of course, with Cubs legend Ron Santo. While there’s a fair share of Cubs’ blue around, to say it was dwarfed on Saturday by the number of those wearing red would be an understatement.

There were so many Reds jerseys and caps that a friend asked if we were in Cooperstown – or at GABP. The sheer number of Reds fans in town shows just how numerous and loyal the fan base really is. Without question, this is a weekend to wear the red with pride.

Hall of Fame Weekend represents everything that makes the game of baseball great. The mark of immortality that comes with enshrinement in Cooperstown is unique from any other sport. It is a time to pay tribute to the national pastime and all those who have made it what it is today.

And for one special weekend, it has been a time to celebrate being a Reds fan while honoring one of the finest to ever wear the wishbone C. 

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