Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Rose brings the house down - for good

Pete thrills sellout crowd - now stadium can close

By John Erardi jerardi@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Pete Rose - who Sunday was represented only by long-stemmed roses, spray-painted No. 14s and chants of “Pete! Pete! Pete!” - came home to Cinergy Field one last time Monday night and received the tumultuous standing ovation everybody had wanted to give him a day earlier.

        The ovation was three minutes long, complete with flashbulbs popping and flashbacks abounding.

Pete Rose was back on the field with Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez.
        The Hit King brought the house down one last time, before it officially comes down in late December.

        “I know one thing,” Rose had said before the softball game at Cinergy. “It'll be fun walking out there again ... but it (the ovation) won't be the same as 4,192 (the night he broke Ty Cobb's all-time hit record). I'm more nervous about my little girl singing the National Anthem than I am playing ball.”

        Indeed, he introduced his daughter, Chea, to the announced crowd of 41,092, and she brought the crowd to its feet for the anthem. Her dad then brought them to their feet one last time for the ages.

        Rose was right: It wasn't 4,192. Nothing could be. That lasted almost seven minutes, and he broke down in tears.

        But it wasn't bad Monday.

        The overwhelming feeling in Cinergy Field was that the closing ceremony of Sunday evening, following the final Reds game there, was now complete.

        “Pete was baseball to me growing up - him and the other guys, Johnny (Bench), Joe (Morgan) and Doggie (Tony Perez),” said Reds fan Raymond Flaugher, 47, of Springfield. “But Pete was special. They couldn't tear this place down without him being here. It wouldn't be right.”

        Rose, who had watched the closing ceremony Sunday on TV, said he appreciated the tributes given him by Tom Browning, (he spray painted the No. 14), Ray Knight (he put the rose inside the wishbone “C” crafted in the grass behind home plate) and the comments made by Joe Nuxhall and others.

        “It probably would have been a lot better if I could have been in there yesterday,” said Rose, who wasn't allowed to because he was banned from baseball in 1989 for his gambling activities.

        Can Rose explain his popularity here?

        “I was born here,” he said, failing to mention that his all-out hustle is what endeared him beyond all else.

        Asked how many would have attended Monday's softball game if he weren't there, the Hit King responded, “Cincinnati has to thank Bud Selig once again. ... The Reds are getting paid for today. The city's getting paid for today.”

        Selig is baseball commissioner. He won't give Rose a hearing on his appeal for reinstatement.

        Does Rose think there is a chance he might get into the Hall of Fame?

        “I don't want to get into that,” Rose said. “If you told me I was gonna die in the next six months, it would really worry me. The Hall of Fame is the ultimate goal of any career, and it's got to be worth waiting for.”

        Rose, 61, had said before the game that there was only one guarantee he could give.

        “You will not see me do a head-first slide,” said Rose. “Because, to be honest with you, I can't get going fast enough to do it. But I will get a hit. I will hit a rope somewhere. Probably right down (third baseman) Mike Schmidt's way.”

        And then what does he do six innings later? He gets his hit, after going 0-for-2, and his hit is past Schmidt. And then, on Joe Morgan's single to right field, Rose went first to third and slid head first into third, to the roars of the crowd. It was shades of Aug. 17, 1984, when he returned to the Reds after a six-year absence, and did a head-first slide into third after his single and a two-base error by the center fielder.

        “The fans can make you feel really good,” Rose said after the game. “But the trick is not to let them clap too long - because then it gets to you.”

        Rose told the crowd after the game: “Now let's not forget that team that is going into that new ballpark over there. We've got to get back to the World Series!”

        Hall of Famer Johnny Bench said it was an honor to share the field again with Rose.

        “It's a great way to close a field - to enjoy one last time, one last head-first slide,” Bench said.

        Then came one of the best highlights of the night: the “Big Four” - Rose, Bench, Morgan and Perez - side-by-side one last time in the Land of Ahs, doffing their caps and waving, cheered in the place they made famous, home of the head-first slide.

        Howard Wilkinson contributed to this report.

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