Saturday, February 22, 2003

Parade organizers want Pete

By Gregory Korte and John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pete Rose may not have his lifetime ban from baseball lifted by Opening Day, but that wouldn't necessarily keep him out of the official debut of Great American Ball Park.

Organizers of the Findlay Market Parade say they want the fan favorite as grand marshal of Cincinnati's 84-year-old Opening Day tradition.

"If we could pull off this Pete Rose deal, that would be bigger than the opening of the new ballpark," said Neil Luken, owner of Charles S. Bare & Sons butchers in Findlay Market and chairman of the parade committee.

But after a week of phone calls, Luken said he hasn't heard back from Rose's camp. "We'd love for it to happen, but we can't keep waiting and waiting and waiting." A decision on the grand marshal has to come soon, he said.

The parade is not directly affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds or Major League Baseball, so Rose's ban from the game wouldn't prohibit his participation. Indeed, even as Major League Baseball suspended Reds owner Marge Schott and forced her to give up control of the team to Carl Lindner, she continued to kick off the parade every year.

"It's a stand-alone event," said John Allen, the Reds' chief operating officer. "I don't think he would need MLB's permission. It's out of our hands."

This year's parade begins at noon, a half-hour later than usual because of the 4:10 p.m. game time. Tickets go on sale today for the March 31 opener against Pittsburgh.

Luken said the idea to have Rose as grand marshal started when the baseball career hits leader made an appearance at the World Series last October to promote a credit card company's "Baseball's Greatest Moments" contest.

"My whole theory behind this started when I saw Pete Rose in San Francisco, and he got a standing ovation. I thought, it's a shame that in Cincinnati we can't do that for him. And then I thought, yes we can - and that opportunity would be on Opening Day," Luken said.

Major League Baseball made an exception to allow Rose to participate in October. Baseball officials say they don't have a position on whether Rose's participation in the parade would be appropriate, or whether it would help or hurt his chances of being reinstated.

"I can't speculate now on how we'd feel about it because we'd have to know more about it," said Rich Levin, a spokesman for Major League Baseball.

Rose agreed to a lifetime ban - with the ability to apply for reinstatement - after a 1989 investigation concluded he bet on baseball.

Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken helped put Rose's case back on the front pages when he wrote Commissioner Bud Selig last year, asking that Rose be restored to baseball in time for the opening of the new taxpayer-financed ball park. But a later report that Rose has a $151,689 tax lien from the Internal Revenue Service has hurt his cause, baseball officials have said.

Warren Greene, Rose's business agent, could not be reached for comment about whether Rose is considering the parade invitation.

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