The Nationals put 198 home runs and 379 stolen bases in the most social corner of their clubhouse, filling a gap in the vicinity of Jose Guillen, Cristian Guzman and Vinny Castilla. Barry Larkin sits in this space, sprawled across a folding chair, in shorts, a Nationals T-shirt and baseball socks rolled down around the ankles.

And if you didn't know better, know about the 19 seasons and the 2,180 games most of which were played as the shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds, you would think he could pull on a uniform, walk on the field and knock out three hits. But Larkin believes in legacies and his was a lifetime of playing for his hometown team at a time when players have loyalty that lasts as long as a new luggage tag.

He would play for no one but the Reds. And when Cincinnati told him it didn't want him back this winter, he retired rather than play a 20th season in a foreign uniform.

But such loyalty does not extend to the retirement years. Which is how he found himself jobless last winter and it is also how Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden found him upon Bowden's arrival to Washington. They had known each other, of course, in those Cincinnati years when Larkin was the star shortstop and Bowden the general manager. Now Bowden was trying to fill this new team from Canada with a sense of winning.

Would Larkin become a special assistant to the general manager in Washington? The old shortstop said yes.

This past weekend, special assistant came to mean taking a locker in the Nationals clubhouse and working with Guzman, the team's regular shortstop who was hitting in the .180s.

They have worked together, Guzman and Larkin. The old shortstop has seen some things the new shortstop is doing wrong at the plate. They've talked about approach, about the way Guzman goes about getting ready for the games. Larkin wonders if Guzman is struggling to adjust from playing on turf in Minnesota to grass here in Washington. The change makes a difference, he says. When the Reds went from turf to grass a few years back, Larkin lost hits. Guzman likes to hit the ball on the ground and the grounders in Minnesota were hits. Here they are outs. They talked about this too. And in the short time they have spent together, Guzman's batting average has climbed into the .190s -- a small improvement, yet an improvement nonetheless.

But the best assistance he can provide might come in those moments he is sitting in the social corner of the clubhouse, sprawled in his chair doing nothing more than talking baseball. On a team where old stars mix well with rookies, he is yet another voice that can help piece together the chemistry.

"(Management) didn't want me dressing in the other room with the coaches," He says. "This is where they put me."

He looks around this place with the bins of smelly socks, piles of shoes and rows of bats and admits that despite his retirement he still feels very much at home in here.

"It's funny we had a staff meeting in spring training and Frank said 'Barry you are such a player.' " Larkin says. "That's what it's all about. I don't ever want to lose that angle. When I talked to Jim about being a special assistant I asked him 'what do you want me to do?' He's never asked me to compromise my relationship with the players. He only wants me to help the players."

This can be a tricky thing. Larkin is less than a year removed from his playing days. He can still look around the room and pick out the pitchers he faced, remembering glumly some unhappy at-bats against Washington relievers Luis Ayala and Hector Carrasco.

But he is not a player anymore, he is a part of management. And often the players who go to the other side find a wall put up between themselves and the men who are still playing. It's natural instinct to distrust a member of management suddenly sitting among them.

For now Larkin seems to be pulling it off, maybe because he is still so freshly retired. Maybe because everything around here is so new and nobody has had time to decide who to trust and who not to. Perhaps those suspicions come with time.

"I'm sure the guys know I speak with the GM and that I'm in the manager's office every day," Larkin said. "But I think there is a confidence in here with me. I am not going to step over that line. That line is very defined for me."

Eventually that line will fade. With time they always do. Old players become coaches, managers or general managers. They can't dress in the clubhouse forever.

Until then, however, Larkin can be one more piece of the good that is happening around the Nationals. It's hard to miss his smile, the way he jokes with the other players, the way -- more and more -- this group seems to like to stay around the clubhouse talking baseball.

He might be retired but he hasn't left the baseball yet.