Classic an 'exciting journey' for Larkin, Brazil
Hall of Famer proud of strides country has made in baseball in past year
FUKUOKA, Japan -- Barry Larkin gave himself a little time to reflect before Brazil's run at the 2013 World Baseball Classic came to an end on Tuesday.
The Hall of Famer was named Brazil's manager in September 2012 and guided the team through the qualifiers to a surprising berth in the Classic, before turning heads with competitive showings against baseball powers Japan and Cuba once the tournament was underway. The Brazilian team lost to China, 5-2, in its final game on Tuesday.
"It's been a wonderful experience," Larkin said. "It's been an exciting journey so far. The future of where this organization, where this country, can go from a baseball perspective is really exciting."
Larkin is trying to help grow the sport in Brazil, and the job doesn't stop just because the team's participation in the Classic has ended.
"There are plenty of plans in the works to continue what has been started," Larkin said. "There are certainly many people who are interested in helping to support programs to get more athletes involved in the game of baseball in Brazil. So the future is incredibly bright."
Larkin brought star power to the Brazil dugout, which helped raise the profile of the game in the South American country.
Larkin was a 12-time All-Star shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds, finishing his career with a .295/.371/.444 line, 198 home runs, 960 RBIs and 379 stolen bases. He won a silver medal with the U.S. during the 1984 Summer Olympics, and a World Series title in 1990.
Larkin, who was also the 1995 NL MVP, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.
Larkin is among the most respected figures in the game and is using his status and experience to help bring baseball to Brazil.
If anyone understands the challenge Larkin faces in building a culture of baseball from the ground up, it's John McLaren, who is taking on the same task as China's manager.
"He's done a great job over there," McLaren said. "They're like us with trying to generate interest in baseball where they don't play baseball. They had a very impressive club, good athletes, and we'll hear from them again."
Like Larkin, McLaren is using the Classic as a way to spread the word about the sport to the people of China.
"One thing I've encouraged is for our players to go back home and talk about the experience they've had here," McLaren said. "How they enjoyed it, and to tell their friends how they enjoyed Japan. Just try and get everybody interested."
Larkin and McLaren face many challenges in their mission, with perhaps the biggest being finding a way to lure top athletes from nations with rich histories in other sports, but little to no baseball tradition, onto the diamond.
"There's not access to great athletes that we know exist in the country," Larkin said. "So it's a matter of being accepted in the communities."
Because Brazil didn't win a game during the Classic, the team will have to go through the qualifying process in order to compete in 2017. Larkin, while disappointed, said he was happy with the way his team fought and competed during the Classic.
"Overall, I think the experience was a very positive experience, and certainly something that we can learn from," Larkin said. "There are certainly some pieces that we are missing, certainly some areas that need to be addressed. The thing I feel good about, is that the infrastructure exists in Brazil to support more people participating. I truly believe the next time there's an opportunity -- it'll be in a qualifier because we didn't win a game here -- that we'll have a much stronger team."
Larkin also hopes Brazil's performance in the Classic has drawn new fans to the sport. In one of his final news conferences he was asked if those fans would like to see him in the team's lineup, which put a smile on the Hall of Famer's face.
"We want to keep those fans," he joked. "So it's better that they don't see me go hit right now."
Jason Coskrey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.