Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Fans satisfied that Rose got last hurrah

Pete slides head-first back into city's heart

By Howard Wilkinson hwilkinson@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Wreck it, implode it, sell the seats and the sod. No one will mind now, because Pete Rose has come home. It was all the 41,000-plus fans who filled Cinergy Field Monday night for a “Farewell to Cinergy” wanted to see.

        For the fans, the softball game between Reds legends and former major leaguers who used to be their foes was a night to defy the baseball gods who, 13 years ago, decreed that the all-time hits leader - the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine - was no longer welcome in baseball.

        Even in the baseball house he helped build.

        “Right there,”' said 50-year-old Johnny Mueller of Eaton, Ohio, sitting in the green seats near first base and pointing toward the third base bag where Rose once played. “That's where I want to see him. Right where he belongs.”

        It was only a softball game Monday night, played by aging men with bald spots and paunches, but for the fans, it was one last chance to see Rose, close their eyes and remember the glory days when he - and they - were young.

        For the first time since the final pitch of the 1976 World Series, when the Reds swept the Yankees, the eight starters who made up what might have been the greatest lineup of all time were on the field together - Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster, Cesar Geronimo.

        And the hometown boy, the pride of Western Hills - Peter Edward Rose.

        “I can't believe I'm seeing this,” said Esther Mintz of Covedale, who remembers a young boy named Rose playing on the fields of Western Hills nearly 45 years ago.

        “He is special. We love him and always will,” Mrs. Mintz said.

        It was a made-up thing. The event Monday night was promoted by Dream Events, a Denver-based firm, and was sponsored by a cookie company.

        The Cincinnati Reds could have nothing to do with it because of Rose's banishment from baseball. Their final bow at Cinergy was Sunday, in a sweetly nostalgic event that had everything except the player who wore No. 14.

        But the 41,092 the promoters said passed through the turnstiles Monday - slightly more than the Sunday crowd - got to see the man the Sunday crowd missed.

        “This is your night,” Rose told the fans, after being introduced and running on to the field, where he was met and hugged by his old teammates and several of the players he managed in the 1980s.

        When he stepped to the plate for the first time - leading off, of course - there was an explosion of flash bulbs around the ballpark that hadn't been seen since another September night 17 years ago, when Rose lifted an Eric Show pitch into shallow left field for record hit No. 4,192.

        The switch-hitter batted from the right side of the plate Monday night, hunched over in his familiar crouch, and lined a Steve Carlton softball pitch to Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt at third.

        The crowd booed Schmidt.

        “I'd like to see Pete do the head-first slide just one more time,”' said Janice Jones of Portsmouth, Ohio. “But I guess I can't expect that of a guy his age.”

        She saw just that, later.

        The 61-year-old Rose surprised Ms. Jones - and everyone else - in the bottom of the sixth inning, when his Reds Legends team trailed 19-4. After reaching first base on a single and moving to second on a single by Joe Morgan, he tagged up on a fly ball and belly flopped into third base.

        The Reds Legends ended up losing, 19-6. But the fans didn't seem to mind.

        During the game, banners hung around the stadium greeting Rose and welcoming him back.

        “Rose in the Hall,”' one banner read. “BET on it.”'

        Karen Bastin of Westwood and Elise Waxler of Roselawn said they came Monday not just to see Rose, but all the Big Red Machine players.

        “Yes, I'm glad he's back,” said Ms. Bastin, who was at the first Riverfront Stadium game in June 1970. “But I love them all - Pete, Johnny, Joe, Tony. All of them together. You can't beat this.”

        Suzanne Osterwich and her 5-year-old daughter Paige had green seats on the first-base line, but the two found themselves high up in the red seats down the right field line, where Mrs. Osterwich took photos of the ballpark with a long-lens camera.

        “We've been moving around all over, taking pictures,” Mrs. Osterwich said. “I want to have pictures of this place from every angle.”'

        The photos will go right alongside the memories she has of coming to Riverfront Stadium as a young girl to see The Big Red Machine.

        Although Rose was the featured attraction Monday night, Mrs. Osterwich said she was here to see all the “old-timers.”

        “I loved them all,”' she said.

        At the end of the game, Rose went to the pitcher's mound with Bench, Morgan and Perez and offered a benediction on the last night of what they knew as Riverfront Stadium.

        “I'd just like to say you the fans were the reason the Big Red Machine was the baseball team it was,” Mr. Rose said. “Thank you.”

        For the person who is arguably the biggest Rose fan of them all - former owner Marge Schott - Monday night was all about her Pete.

        “I love him so much,” Mrs. Schott said.

Pete Rose/Cinergy softball photo gallery

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