PENSACOLA, Fla. - Barry Larkin spoke with Jesse Winker, Kyle Waldrop and Ray Chang about hitting after doing soft toss with them and having them hit off a tee with the other Pensacola Blue Wahoos players. He hit grounders to middle infielders Juan Perez, Ryan Wright and Seth Mejias-Brean.
The Cincinnati Reds newly named roving minor league infield instructor strolled the field as confidently as he did when he played shortstop for the team for 19 years, playing in 12 All-Star games.
Larkin's first stop was at the Reds Double-A affiliate in Pensacola, where the Blue Wahoos have gotten off to a 9-19 start.
"My official title is roving instructor with the Reds," said Larkin, who spoke with the media on Friday. "It's morphed into whatever they like to do. What drills did I do when I was in the game? I share all the information with them."
Perez, a Blue Wahoos shortstop, said having Larkin in town for the six-game series with the Tennessee Smokies has been invaluable.
"The amount of baseball knowledge he has is ridiculous on the infield, on everything," Perez said. "It has been good to have him out here."
Third baseman Mejias-Brean said what makes Larkin a good coach is the former ESPN analyst's speaking ability.
"He talks so well and puts it in a way we can understand it," Mejias-Brean said. "He was talking to us about being athletes. Don't sit at one position. If someone goes down, be able to play shortstop or second or play first. Just be an athlete out there."
Although the 51-year-old Larkin retired in 2004 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, he has never really left the sport he loves. He coached the Brazil national team. And, Larkin takes on a "project" every off season at his home in Orlando. This past season, it was the Cleveland Indians future shortstop Francisco Lindor. The 21-year-old, who is one of the game's best prospects, is projected to be promoted from Triple A to the big leagues at some point this season.
"I've always done player development with big league or minor league players in Orlando," Larkin said. "He's going to be a star one day."
He suspects he will be working with another future star, Winker, who's also from Orlando.
Larkin said he has talked to both the Tampa Bay Rays and the Detroit Tigers about coaching but just doesn't have the time with all of his family commitments.
Growing up in Cincinnati and playing for 19 years with the Reds where he counts former players, such as Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez, Dave Parker and Buddy Bell as mentors, he still lives the "Reds way."
He played from 1986-2004 for Cincinnati, won the 1995 National League Most Valuable Player Award, played on the 1990 Reds championship team and has a .295 lifetime average, with 198 home runs, 960 RBIs, 2,340 hits, a .371 on-base percentage and 379 stolen bases.
He still has good memories of those days, such as taking ground balls early at the Los Angeles Dodgers empty stadium with Bell.
"He says, 'Do you smell that grass?'" Larkin recalls. "He made me get down on all fours and smell the grass. Then he said, 'Look up at the sky. How do you feel?' I said, 'Very small.' He said, 'Don't ever lose that perspective.'"
Larkin's first manager for Cincinnati was Pete Rose. He still believes baseball should reinstate Rose, especially with this season's All-Star game in the Reds Great American Ballpark. Rose earned a lifetime ban for gambling on baseball.
"In my first game, I used Pete Rose's bat and Pete Rose's shoes," Larkin said. "He is one of the great minds in baseball."
It's those type of lessons and that type of mentorship that Larkin hopes to be for Reds' minor league players coming up today. For example, he said the Blue Wahoos have had a lot of "non-committal at bats" in the series with the Smokies. Friday, Winker hit a walk-off single and Pensacola won the game, 5-4.
"I've seen a distinguishable difference in their approach to hitting," Larkin said. "I enjoy when a guy gets it. I enjoy being able to put it in a way the players can understand it. When a smile comes on their face and you know they start to feel it. At the end of the session, 'It's, 'Ahh, I kind of got it.'"
The Blue Wahoos take on the Tennessee Smokies May 5th-9th. Come experience the first Wahoo Waddle of the year on May 7th! You can follow the team at BlueWahoos.com, facebook.com/PensacolaBlueWahoos and twitter.com/BlueWahoosBBall.
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