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I think what first drew me to Pete Rose was his name. I liked how, on his baseball card, Pete Rose signed his signature name. When in third grade I wrote my own name in cursive, I modeled my looping P in Pete after the looping P on Pete Rose’s baseball card. This was in the mid-1970s and Pete Rose played baseball for the Big Red Machine down in Cincinnati. Sparky Anderson with his full head of white hair was at the helm of the Big Red Machine. Johnny Bench captained it all from back behind the plate. Joe Morgan with his left elbow cocked high in the batter’s box. Tony “Big Dog” Perez. Davy Concepion. Ken Griffey. Pete Rose. They were all my baseball idols even though I lived in a small town downriver from Detroit and its Detroit Tigers. The mid-70s Tigers had Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the long-haired, lanky-legged pitcher who liked to talk to baseballs, but even The Bird and his bigger-than-life antics on the mound couldn’t stand up to roll-over power of The Big Red Machine. A machine indeed they were. And Pete Rose was the Big Red Heart of the Big Red Machine. Here was Mr. Hustle chugging around second base and diving headfirst into third. Rose played hard and wasn’t afraid to get dirty. Rose’s #14 jersey was always covered in dirt. Helmet flying. Arms pumping. Shoulder lowered into the catcher at a play at home plate. It didn’t matter if it was the first game of the season, mid-season, or a game that didn’t really matter. Every game mattered for a player like Pete Rose. It’s too bad there were other kinds of games that also mattered to Pete Rose. Rose, as most of us know, liked to gamble. It’s true he took and threw his gambling dice too far, or too close to home, when he placed bets against his own team. But Rose the player, not the Rose the gambler, is the Rose that I want to talk about, and remember, and I still like to hold him up to the young players that I coach as a the kind of a player to play the game of baseball like. To play the game Pete Rose hard. To play the game with Pete Rose chug and hustle. Pete Rose did not know how to trot into second base. Every base hit single was rounded hard as if to say, ‘I might not stop at just one.’ Pete Rose was hard and heavy and dirty and rough on the base paths. Because Pete Rose didn’t just play the game of baseball. Pete Rose played through the game of baseball. And he most definitely left his mark on those who watched him play. And compete. And break records. It’s just too bad that the Pete Rose name leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many fans that love and love to romanticize the veil of purity that we often drape in front of the game of baseball. I think I sometimes wished that Pete Rose could be my father. We shared a name, as I did with my own father who was yet another Pete in this family circle. My own father loved the hustle and grit of Pete Rose and passed that love for hard work and dirt and blue-collar grime and gristle down the line to me. I like to think that I played the game of baseball the way that Pete Rose played the game of baseball. That said, I don’t know that Pete Rose and I would see eye to eye on most things outside the clean white lines of the diamond. He seems like he’d be a man who’d have his firm opinions about things—like politics, or gambling, or women—that I imagine would make me have to bite down hard on my tongue to keep my own opinions to myself. I’m pretty sure Pete Rose would kick my ass in a fistfight is all that I’m saying. But if I learned any one thing from Pete Rose it’s that you have to pick up and dust yourself off after getting knocked down. Get back on your feet and keep moving. I’d probably still ask Pete Rose for his autograph if I ever had the chance to meet him face to face. I’m sure he still signs his name the same Pete Rose way, the way only Pete Rose can, the way only Pete Rose knows how to do it: with Pete Rose in-your-face style, with a big looping letter P at the beginning of Pete, announcing his Pete Rose presence, letting you know his name, and who Pete Rose is, unapologetically so: a Pete Rose who is a Pete Rose who is a Pete Rose
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