Every so often in a person’s life, something happens that frames a part of it in a significant way. There are the obvious things – milestone birthdays, weddings, births, deaths – and then there are the things that need reflection and a bit of a change in perception to understand them.
In 1986, I was nine years old. I guess that puts me in the summer between Ms. Ryan’s third grade class and Mr. Montgomery’s fourth. There was nothing remarkable about that summer, nothing that stands out in memory, even in the fading film photographs that exist as vestiges of a childhood I vaguely remember. 1987, same way, save for the newly-acquired hobby of collecting Topps baseball cards with the wooden borders after Little League games. 1988 saw an All-Star Game in the cookie cutter stadium that had been the best place in the world, but what else?
Then came 1989 and that place didn’t seem so good anymore. The scandal of Pete Rose took the innocence away and broke the heart of a crumbling industrial town in a part of the country that was descending into irrelevance. But in 1990, a scrappy baseball team started the process of healing, and the center of that World Championship team was Barry Larkin.
By then, I was twelve years old and becoming cognizant of the world. I spent the entirety of the nineties in high school and college and started the global travel that would become my life. Lots of changes, changes everywhere except one place – shortstop in Cincinnati.
There are so many things in life – too many – that we take for granted. Change comes at a pace we can’t match, even as we fight with each other to slow it down through culture wars and cable news shouting matches. But we can’t fight change, and we can’t fight time and win. One morning we wake up on a beautiful spring day with the glory of youth in our hearts and the next we’re watching our graying friends interred one by one until we, too, succumb to the inevitable.
One day we’re watching a 22 year old shortstop make his Major League debut, another we see him retire, but only if we’re lucky do we get to witness him enshrined into the Hall of Fame. We reveled in his achievements but for the most part we took him for granted, just like we took our lives for granted, our youth, our friendships, our relationships.
There’s something to be said for loyalty. Barry Larkin, born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, spent his entire 19 year Major League career with the team he grew up watching in a time when it was becoming fashionable to change teams every few years in pursuit of the almighty dollar. His time with our team produced something consistent in our lives, something happy.
And so, something as unimportant in life as baseball becomes important. Barry’s election to the Hall of Fame is special to us precisely because of what he gave to us for so many years – consistency, loyalty, and a team worth watching with the people who matter to us. I felt a rare surge of joy when I heard the news, genuine joy, tinged with a pang of nostalgia and a hint of childlike wonder.
I suppose I better start booking a trip to Cooperstown for the end of July.