"Man, I did love this game. I'd have played for food money. It was the game...the sounds...the smells. Did you ever hold a ball or a glove to your face? I used to love traveling on the trains from town to town. The hotels...brass spittoons in the lobbies...brass beds in the rooms. It was the crowd, rising to their feet when the ball was hit deep. Shoot, I'd have played for nothing."
--Shoeless Joe Jackson (Field of Dreams)
It is Pete Rose Weekend in Cincinnati. Although Major League Baseball has yet to officially welcome Pete Rose back into the game, it approved Pete's induction into the Reds Hall of Fame. It's happening the weekend. Cincinnatians, including native Westsider Pete himself, are relishing in the moment.
Reds baseball greats who played with Pete, including most of the Big Red Machine, joined him yesterday in celebration as the induction speeches flowed. Emotion was as thick as the temperature was hot on the field. It was wonderful.
What is everyone celebrating? Hometown hero, yes. All time hit king, yes. But anyone who knows baseball. and especially those who watched the game when Pete played, is also celebrating this: the possibilities that can result from sheer drive.
There is a case to be made that Pete Rose would never be drafted in today's baseball world--an environment dominated by analytics. No arm, no speed, no power. Rose would surely struggle to catch the attention of modern scouts who are prone to judge talent with stop watches, radar guns, and exit velocities.
What we learned from Pete is the lesson that effort trumps natural ability. Indomitable spirit overcomes deficits in God-gifted talent. What a sight Pete Rose was on the field. He was a lot like us, except that he played harder than all of us combined. He busted ass like few others before or since. Charlie Hustle.
And then there was his enthusiasm. Here is my favorite personal Pete Rose story. The Reds played the Boston Red Sox in the 1975 World Series. Despite being the odds-on favorites, the Reds struggled mightily in the first two games in Boston. After losing Game 1, they were fortunate to squeak out a late inning come-from-behind win in Game 2 before returning home to Cincy. My friend Rick and I had tickets for Game 3.
As was customary for us that year, we took the city bus downtown late in the afternoon, walked to Riverfront Stadium, and waited for the gates to open about 2 1/2 hrs before the game. Once inside, we snuck down to the field level blue seats behind the third base dugout to watch batting practice.
Unlike regular season BP session where just a few beat writers would be hanging around the batting cage talking to players here and there, media everywhere. Players were visibly uptight. To be expected, I suppose, as this was the World Series after all.
All except Pete Rose. You could here him laughing as he waited his turn for BP. He walked around the back of the cage slapping backs and joking with players and reporters. Pete would step into the case, stroke a few a line drives, then emerge with that smile on his face.
"Look at Rose," I said to Rick. "He loves it here. There's no place this guy would rather be."
Pete Rose went on to become the MVP of the 75 Series.
During his induction speech yesterday, Pete Rose said that he gave it his all because of the fans. That he was better because of us.
Well, Pete, we're also better because of you.