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Larkin prepares for Sunday's Hall of Fame induction

CINCINNATI -- As Barry Larkin hits the home stretch before his enshrinement to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Sunday, there won't be some of the usual debate over smaller issues.

For example, no one can question which team's cap will be worn on Larkin's likeness on the Hall of Fame plaque that will immortalize his career. It all happened for one team, and in one city.

That would be the Cincinnati Reds, from 1986-2004. That's a rarity for the modern ballplayer. Even the modern Hall of Famers seem to have multiple teams mentioned on the plaque, as well as the occasional debate of which team he most represented his greatness.

"It was a special relationship. It meant a lot," Larkin said Tuesday of his time with the Reds. "In retrospect, it meant more now than it did when I was playing. When I was playing, it was about winning championships or having the opportunity to play in the postseason and win."

The Reds were contenders over several of Larkin's 19 seasons. They won the World Series in 1990, reached the National League Championship Series in '95 -- Larkin's NL Most Valuable Player Award-winning season -- and lost a one-game playoff for a postseason berth in '99.

There was more than just winning titles in the mind of Larkin, a Cincinnati-area native and Moeller High School graduate before he starred at shortstop for his hometown team.

"Obviously, I was aware of the fact I was from Cincinnati," Larkin said. "My mom and dad came to just about every game. It was very comfortable in Cincinnati. I liked the people of Cincinnati, and I liked the life and opportunity, and my relationship with the fans was great. I just enjoyed everything about it."

Larkin grew up in Cincinnati during the era of the Big Red Machine, and he often imitated his would-be predecessors while playing with his friends.

"That was motivation in itself," Larkin recalled. "I remember being a young kid outside playing and doing a Pete Rose slide, throwing my bat around like Tony Perez or doing a Davey Concepcion bounce-throw on the concrete. I remember all of that stuff. It was absolutely a dream."

Larkin nearly wasn't able to finish his great career in his hometown. In 2000, he blocked a trade to the Mets, a deal he would have accepted had New York given him a three-year contract extension.

And there was a previously unknown time when he almost switched from Cincinnati red to Dodgers blue.

"I think it was '99 and we're out playing in L.A.," Larkin said, "and the clubhouse kid comes over to me and gives me a jersey with 'Larkin' on the back. And it's a Dodgers jersey. I asked 'What is that?'

"They said, 'It's for you,'" Larkin said the kid replied. "'We're that close to the deal that they told us to make the jersey, because the press conference will take place in a couple of days and they wanted to make sure we were prepared for it.' I still have the jersey. I had no clue that the Reds were even thinking of trading me to the Dodgers."

However, Larkin was able to tie a bow on his career with the Reds. He is the owner of a .295 lifetime average, with 198 home runs, 960 RBIs, 2,340 hits, a .371 on-base percentage and 379 stolen bases. He was also a 12-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner and a nine-time Silver Slugger winner to go with his 1995 MVP trophy.

While his entering the Hall is a celebration for Larkin, it will also be a big moment for Cincinnati.

"I'm really excited for all the Reds fans that are going to show up," Larkin said. "I've heard just about everybody in the world is coming. It ought to be a very good weekend."

Aside from fans, several current and past members of the franchise are expected to attend, including the Castellini and Williams ownership group that will host a party in Larkin's honor during the weekend. At 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, Larkin and other Hall of Famers will take part in the "Parade of Legends" down Main St. in Cooperstown.

The Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which will honor both Larkin and the late Cubs legend Ron Santo, will be held at 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday at the Clark Sports Center, located one mile south of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Fans can attend the ceremony for free, and for those that are unable, it will be televised live on MLB Network.

One added feature is that Larkin's youngest daughter, 16-year-old Cymber, will be signing the national anthem prior to the festivities.

"I will be as nervous as heck for her when she's singing the national anthem," Larkin said. "I'm sure there will be all kinds of emotions going on."

Larkin, 48, is trying to get rid of a head cold this week, but should have plenty of adrenaline carrying him to the podium to reflect on his life and career. The speech has been finished for about a month, he said, but there's just the final preparations left before that moment -- his moment.

"I have been reading through it, re-reading through it, and making sure that I acknowledge some of the people that I think have influenced and are important in my life," Larkin said. "I have acknowledged the reason why I think I've been successful as a player. My success is definitely a product of what has happened in the foundation that was set up for me. My speech will be very reflective of that."

Cincinnati Reds