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Pete Rose has given us back what he took away

Pete Rose in his rookie year at Picture Day in...
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I’m not a sports guy.

Let’s make that clear from the get-go. Any sport I tried to play as a kid ended up embarrassingly bad – including my career-ending smack-in-the-face at one of my very first pitch baseball games. I was in the second grade.

Growing up in Cincinnati meant loving, at minimum, two teams. One was the Cincinnati Bengals. The other was most certainly the Cincinnati Reds. So, on September 11, 1985 I was at home, a new sixth-grader. In the kitchen was a small 12-inch black and white TV and that’s where I remember standing each and every time Pete Rose would come to bat. We were waiting for his 4,192nd hit – the one that would break Ty Cobb‘s all-time hit record. It was an incredible time to be a Reds’ fan – especially because I was born in 1974 and those amazing  Big Red Machine days happened when I was too young to experience them fully.

Then the hit happened and it was amazing to see. Even on that little TV.

A few years later we would come to find out Rose bet on baseball. Rose would continue to deny this for years, despite mountains of evidence against him. Because Pete was one of us – he was born and raised here, grew up and learned to play baseball on the West Side – many of us were much more likely to believe Pete. We wanted to believe Pete.

Rose was banned from baseball and remained cocky and defiant. The pat line in Cincinnati was Pete needed to be in the Hall of Fame – no matter what he had done or how cocky he got or how bad the evidence was against him. I think some of us knew he probably didn’t deserve to be allowed back into baseball, but it just didn’t matter. He’s one of us and was a fantastic baseball player. One of the best to ever play the game. Few anywhere would dispute that.

This past Saturday, though, something amazing happened. On the 25th anniversary of that most memorable night and that historic hit, Rose was back on a baseball field, this time at the new Great American Ball Park and in front of many of those same fans. They were cheering him like they had done so many times and years before. Later that night he, ironically, went to a casino in Lawrenceburg, Ind., about a 30-minute drive from downtown Cincinnati, where he would do a paid appearance at a roast in his honor. The first part of the night, as described by Cincinnati Enquirer writer John Erardi, was light-hearted and funny. But when Rose was done being roasted by former teammates, he took the podium and gave a sobbing apology for betting on baseball. Here’s what he said, excerpted from the Enquirer article:

“I guarantee everybody in this room, I will never disrespect you again,” Rose said.

“You can talk about hits and runs and championship games . . . (But) I want my legacy to be (that of) somebody who came forward. If anybody has a problem here today, come forward. Don’t hide it . . . You can run, but you can’t hide. If I can help a young kid to know what I went through, maybe I can prevent them from going through the same thing.

“I got suspended 21 years ago. For 10-12 years, I kept it inside . . . That’s changed. I’m a different guy . . . I love the fans, I love the game of baseball, and I love Cincinnati baseball.”

Pete sounds like a guy who has gotten some help. Or he has figured it out on his own. Whatever it is (and I hope it’s the former), the apology I’m sure means a lot to his family, his friends and his teammates. It has to mean a lot to him. To let that go, admit to himself that the problem is bigger than this giant, legend-of-a-man – this is no little thing. Men like him don’t have to be humble much and when they should, well, I imagine it’s like being at your first t-ball practice.

Pete is 69 years old now. He gave us back something Saturday. The night of his magical hit can rise up again and be that special moment, untainted by what we found out a few years later. We got unstuck. Pete freed us from those chains he put on us, that burden we carried with him. Thank you, Pete. We needed it probably as much as you did. Baseball got something back Saturday night. Pete got something back. The fans got something back.

It’s time to give him the honor he deserves, what the fans deserve, what baseball deserves. It’s time to turn the page and let the next chapter of Pete’s life be written. I can’t wait to be there for it. And I’m not even a sports guy.

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