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Larkin finding comfort zone among game's greats

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- On Saturday, just a little less than 24 hours before his formal induction into the Hall of Fame, Reds great Barry Larkin wasn't quite one of them just yet.

But Larkin was certainly made to feel he belonged in baseball's rarest of air.

How did Larkin start the day before he will become an immortal? He played a round of golf with some of those who already are.

"Al Kaline just walked up to me and said, 'Hey, how did you shoot today buddy?' [I said], 'Pretty good, Mr. Kaline, thank you,'" Larkin explained. "I saw Bob Gibson the other day and said 'Mr. Gibson.' He said, 'I'm Bob.' I'm like, 'OK, Bob.' I came up here for orientation five, six weeks ago, and it was great. Still at that time, it was kind of a concept. Now it's a little more tangible. I think it's a little more special for sure."

For the Hall of Famers golf tournament, Larkin was in a foursome with brothers Stephen and Byron and his business manager. From the first tee after hitting with a driver, Larkin appeared cool and collected and had no concerns about the moment he will be enshrined along with the late Cubs great Ron Santo on Sunday afternoon at the Clark Sports Center, just outside of Cooperstown.

"Now, seeing all of the Hall of Famers and seeing how comfortable they all are, that puts me at comfort. I'm looking forward to it," Larkin said. "It's awe inspiring, seeing all of these guys. There is certainly a lot of confidence around here. Everybody is and was a great player. To be amongst those great players, it's like an All-Star Game."

The induction ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. ET. Live coverage of the induction ceremonies on MLB Network and simulcast on begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.

"He seems to be pretty calm," said pitcher Bert Blyleven, who was in Larkin's shoes one year ago as a 2011 Hall of Fame inductee. "His speech is hopefully within 5-10 minutes. He has a tendency to talk a lot, so we'll find out."

"That's the first comment I hear from just about everybody: 'How long is it?'" Larkin said just a few minutes earlier. "Thank goodness it's going to be a little cool [weather wise], so I probably won't hear that too often."

During a press conference later Saturday, the 48-year-old Larkin did not divulge the complete contents of his speech. But it was clear that he will show gratitude to the players that welcomed him to the Reds' clubhouse, much like the way he's been welcomed with open arms by fellow Hall of Famers.

Larkin, then a 22-year-old native of Cincinnati playing for his hometown team, broke into the Majors in 1986 under manager Pete Rose and played his first full season in 1987. Not only was Rose a Cincinnati-raised player, so were teammates like Buddy Bell, Dave Parker and Ron Oester -- all of whom showed Larkin the ropes.

"When I got to the big leagues, I had a real unique opportunity to play with guys from Cincinnati that were representing Cincinnati, that were good players and good people," Larkin said. "They showed me early in my career the importance of acknowledging the help of others contributing to my success personally. Part of that was in my rookie upbringing, taking guys and doing that for them. Taking them on road trips, providing for them or giving gifts to them -- not based on what they did on the field, but because they're good people. That rubbed off on me."

During an early-in-his-career road trip to Houston, Larkin learned what it meant to be a rookie and to watch the veterans.

"We got beat up pretty bad in Houston. They knew I was a rookie and knew I went shopping in the Houston Galleria," Larkin said. "On our trip out of Houston, either Dave Parker or Buddy Bell said whoever has anything that says made in Houston or bought in Houston on their person is getting cut."

Larkin looked at his jacket, tie, pants and shoes -- all were made or purchased in Houston. Uh-oh.

"I walked off the plane with shredded pants," Larkin said. "I think I was missing a shirt sleeve in my coat. My tie was cut."

The next morning, when the road trip had moved on to New York, those same veterans took Larkin shopping and brought him a bunch of new suits.

"I think because I didn't rebel and just sat there and took it, they decided 'Alright, this kid understands, he's on the team.' It's things like that," Larkin said. "Because I was introduced to the game like that, it became a way of creating camaraderie on the team."

Larkin, who became the Reds' team captain by 1997, took the previous generation's generosity and passed on to the next group. Like current Reds star Joey Votto did before this season, Larkin learned Spanish so he could communicate with Latin players in their first language. He made younger players comfortable and helped them learn the finer points of their position. Clubhouse manager Rick Stowe, who became a close friend, received a brand-new Mercedes when Larkin retired in 2004.

As a player, Larkin watched other Reds greats like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez receive their induction to the Hall of Fame. Did he ever expect to be joining them with a plaque in Cooperstown?

"Absolutely not," Larkin replied. "I grew up idolizing those guys and watching the Big Red Machine. As a ballplayer, I often thought about being a good player. I thought about being an All-Star. I thought about winning the World Series. I thought about just being really good. But those guys were at a totally different level."

Not anymore. As of Sunday, Larkin will be one of their peers and part of the most exclusive club in baseball -- a true Hall of Famer.

Barry Larkin