A logjam of kids swelled behind the first-base dugout in Riverfront Stadium.
As my wife and I watched, our two sons blended into that sea of sweaty, eager youngsters in the summer of ’95. Most of them clutched baseballs, mitts, game programs and other autograph-worthy objects. Across the wall stood several Cincinnati Reds players, casually stretching and cutting up. The Red who mattered most to my 7-year-old was shortstop Barry Larkin.
On this day, though, the signing ritual was cut short. The players abruptly returned to the dugout, and many of the kids turned around with glum faces and trudged back up the aisle through the box-seat section. Our oldest son — an avid fan — climbed the steps without a Barry Larkin signature, a bit disappointed but nonetheless anxious to take in the actual ball game. We were glad to see him still smiling. What we didn’t see was his carefree, 5-year-old kid brother and ever-present sidekick.
“Where is he?” we asked in panic.
“On the field,” our 7-year-old answered, matter-of-factly.
Sure enough, we looked up and saw our 5-year-old sprinting into center field alongside a couple dozen other kids. In those days, Marge Schott — the Reds’ crusty, eccentric owner — occasionally let a few randomly selected children run through the outfield before the opening pitch. As the lucky, chosen ones were steered back to the first-base gate, the Reds players began emerging from the dugout. Our boy strolled right past Larkin and the other Reds, grinning yet oblivious to the rarity of his opportunity, while his big brother could only watch in awe.
Our sons, and later their little sister, spent many weekend, family getaways in the seats of Riverfront Stadium and its successor, Great American Ballpark. (The Queen City is part of their lineage; my parents grew up a half-hour away in Aurora, Ind.) Many of our fondest baseball memories surrounded Larkin. As babies, the boys sat on our laps in 1990, when Larkin and the Reds stayed in first place all season and then swept the heavily favored Oakland A’s in the World Series.
The next June, we saw Larkin hit the first two of five homers in a two-game span — a feat no other major-league shortstop had accomplished. In 1995, he played well enough to earn the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Even as the Reds struggled in later years before Larkin retired in 2004, he stood out.
Countless times, we watched Larkin snare scorching grounders, throw out baserunners from deep in the second-base hole, masterfully execute hit-and-run plays, and inspire his fellow Reds with class and dignity. Fittingly, Larkin delivered on that missed autograph, too, promptly responding to a mailed request by sending our oldest a signed game-action photo.
The picture still hangs in my son’s room, though he’s grown up and on his own now, working and seeing the world. He didn’t forget the message Larkin wrote on the photograph — “Study hard, play hard.” As a strong high school wrestler and a Purdue graduate, he fulfilled both pieces of advice.
Most of all, Larkin gave our kids and thousands of others little reason to later regret having called him their favorite Reds player. As former Cincinnati manager Lou Piniella told mlb.com on Monday, “He’s an outstanding individual, both on and off the field.” That statement can’t always be uttered truthfully about players being considered for Baseball Hall of Fame induction. During the next several years, the ballots will include the names of record-setting players who, unlike Larkin, were known or suspected steroid users. This week, former teammates, managers, executives and fans gushed words similar to Piniella’s when the announcement came that Larkin would be enshrined at Cooperstown, N.Y.
They also raved about his skills, reflected through statistics — the first shortstop with 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season, a .338 postseason batting average, 198 career home runs, 2,340 hits, three Gold Gloves and nine Silver Slugger awards. Larkin lived up to his label as “quiet leader” of the Reds in other ways, too. He studied Spanish to communicate better with his Latin American teammates. Having left the University of Michigan after being drafted by Cincinnati following his junior year, Larkin later finished his final year of college and earned his degree, fulfilling a promise to his mother and grandmother. He even offered to buy natural grass turf to replace the hard AstroTurf at old Riverfront Stadium, hoping to preserve his aging knees and those of the other Reds.
And, he played all 19 of his big-league seasons in Cincinnati, his hometown. Larkin never abandoned the small, Midwestern city where he played Little League baseball and high school football at Cincinnati Moeller. He never embarrassed the Reds, the club he grew up watching in their “Big Red Machine” heyday of the 1970s. Through some rough, tumultuous Reds seasons of his own, Larkin kept his loyalty and character.
After Larkin got the call from Cooperstown on Monday, Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty asked him, “When you are telling your children about your career, what do you want them to know most?”
“Humility, in everything and anything I do,” Larkin answered.
People who practice that virtue, by definition, don’t bring attention to themselves. Thus, they silently may wonder if anybody on earth even notices. I can only speak for one household in Indiana, but rest assured, Barry Larkin, your integrity is not forgotten.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A logjam of kids swelled behind the first-base dugout in Riverfront Stadium.
- News Columns
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’
If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Hoosiers’ priorities vs. legislators’ agenda
Every year at about this time, Statehouse reporters like me ask lawmakers what their priorities will be for the coming year.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY: Cheneys’ feud hits Indiana
Oh, it’s on.
If there was any doubt that the coming fight over the same-sex marriage ban amendment in Indiana was going to be elevated to the national level, it’s gone.
Chamber: Repeal ‘smoker’s bill of rights’
When Indiana lawmakers return for the 2014 session in early January, they’ll step into the highly charged issue of marriage equality as they debate the proposed amendment that would lock into the state constitution a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?
I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
Citizens fight for school funds
Never underestimate the power of high school band parents.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Pence eyes reducing infant mortality as key legislative goal for administration
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence opened the state’s Infant Mortality Summit last week by sharing a personal story: He and his wife had struggled with infertility issues early in their marriage, so the eventual arrival of their three children was met with deep gratitude and appreciation.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife
My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.
MAX JONES: Fight for public access among Dave Cox’s legacies
A group of Indiana newspaper editors who advise the Hoosier State Press Association on issues related to access to public records and meetings had the opportunity to meet new Public Access Counselor Luke Britt last week.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy
It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.
America, falling behind global peers
As Congress was descending further into dysfunction last week, this discouraging piece of news emerged: Despite how we Americans insist that we’re the best and brightest people on the globe, we’re not.
MAX JONES: Ernie Pyle’s IU legacy should be preserved
As an alum of Indiana University-Bloomington, where I received a bachelor’s degree in journalism many moons ago, I’ve been watching with keen interest the ongoing discussion about merging the School of Journalism with other areas of communications, such as PR and filmmaking, inside the College of Arts & Sciences.
MARK BENNETT: ISU professor’s book on Churchill to be TV period drama
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge
It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.
B.J. RILEY: Special Progress sections spotlight growth in Wabash Valley
Inserted in your Tribune-Star today is our annual Progress edition, “Community Update 2013.” This is the fifth year we have put together this type of publication, an effort months in the making.
MARK BENNETT: ‘The voice of the Democratic Party’
The ad stands as a campaign classic. Its scenario is part of history. Its narrator would be familiar to millions of Americans, yet anonymous, too.
Debate: Investing in early-childhood education
Should Indiana children wait until they are 7 years old before they step into a classroom?
Health care costs Hoosiers either way
In the war over the Affordable Care Act, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence won a policy victory when the Obama administration gave him a temporary pass to continue with the Healthy Indiana Plan, a high-deductible health insurance program that covers only 37,000 low-income Hoosiers.
MARK BENNETT: Even Marty McFly wouldn’t want to go back to those paydays
Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
Ah, simpler times. Then again … hair styles as big as mushroom clouds, “Miami Vice” jackets, the trickle-down theory, New Coke, Yugos.
OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
Same-sex marriage ban tests ‘Hoosier hospitality’
In a recent column I wrote when I visited Washington, D.C., as the city was preparing to host the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, I asked the questions: “Will we see diversity as a threat to our seemingly secure world? Or will we embrace it as a strength?”
MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …
I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.
MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
Anniversary of March cause for introspection
Many years ago, when I was a high school senior visiting college campuses, I met with an adviser at Indiana University whose job included recruiting new students to campus.
MARK BENNETT: Rose-Hulman bridge design would let people walk, run, ride across Wabash River
Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night
We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.
MARK BENNETT: When did athleticism surpass skill in sports?
Baseball has gotten too athletic.
- More News Columns Headlines
- MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’