COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Fans have come from all over for this induction weekend, as they always do. There's a lot of folks from Cincinnati, of course, to honor Barry Larkin, and posses from Chicago for Ron Santo. Some Detroit people were happy to run into ol' Denny McLain, signing books outside the inauspiciously named Paterno Bros. (no, no relation) on Main Street. And Giants supporters have been pleased to get a glimpse of Juan Marichal.
At least one of the Larkin fans flew in from Minnesota. That would be Conor Marrinan, who was 11 years old when he first met Larkin and who told himself then and there that if the shortstop ever made the Hall of Fame, he was coming to see it. Conor's 23 now. He's in Cooperstown with his Mom.
Marrinan played against Larkin in a charity pool tournament that was organized by Kirby Puckett in the late autumn of 2001. They played stripes and solids. Marrinan won. It's not that the kid was particularly skilled on the pool felt, it's just that Larkin, as Marrinan recalls, "wasn't really good at all."
What the Reds shortstop was good at was being humble, and lending an ear to Marrinan and encouraging him. At the charity banquet after the pool-playing, Larkin came up to Conor's parents, Patti and Tim, and said that he thought Conor was a terrific kid and that he had asked him some great questions. One thing Conor asked Larkin was, "What is like when you hit a home run off of a friend of yours?"
The charity was Children's HeartLink , which raises money for kids with heart disease and the tournament took place at the Mall of America. There were some other big leaguers playing in it too. Conor had begged to get in partly because when he was five years old he had what Patti calls "a near-death experience" after he cracked open his skull on the pole of a swingset.
"So he always wanted to give back," says Patti. And also to get to meet some big leaguers. The fee to play was $800. "It was an early Christmas present for him that year," Patti says.
Conor and Larkin stayed in touch and a year or two later Conor got to a ballgame in Cincinnati, The Marrinans bought their own tickets but Larkin brought Conor into the clubhouse and he met guys like Pokey Reese and Danny Graves and the Griffeys. Now he was really a Larkin fan for life. "I used to donate books in his name to the school library," Conor says.
These days Conor, graduated from the University of St. Thomas, works for a bank in Minneapolis. He's in an anti-laundering unit. Conor doesn't play organized baseball -- not since middle school -- but he is still a big fan. He has been to 16 Twins games this year and in those games Minnesota has two wins and 14 losses. "So, this," said Conor, standing just off Main Street, "is definitely the highlight of my year."
Larkin and Marrinan aren't in touch any longer, haven't been for years, but in the Marriman household, the ballplayer will never go away. Conor and Patti will be right there on the lawn when Larkin delivers his induction speech.
"If I could say something to Barry, it would be this," says Conor: "I would say, 'Thank you for making such an impact in my life.' He helped me see that whoever you are, just being genuine, being there for people and giving back and not having a big head, is important. I've known he was a Hall of Famer for years."