Yes, he runs like his old man, or, as he puts it, like "a mule." Yes, he throws like his old man, with that straight-armed style that doesn't exactly jet the ball across the infield. But 15-year-old third baseman-first baseman Pete Rose Jr. hits like his old man, too, and he wants everyone to know that in addition to batting .390 and driving in 40 runs in 40 games for an American Legion team that reached the Ohio District 4 finals this year, he hit one home run, just like the old man. Not bad, considering that on a squad of 16- to 18-year-olds, he was the only one not old enough to drive.
"I've been with the team for eight years, and I've never had a 15-year-old with enough nerve to try out," says Budde Post coach John McMichen. "Petey said, 'I'm gonna try out.' I told him, 'I hope we'll still be friends if you don't make it.' He said, 'I don't plan on getting cut.' "
So he thinks like Dad, too. In so many ways, Pete Rose Jr. is his father's son. He has auburn hair, freckled skin, that crinkly-eyed smile and what appears to be the beginnings of a barrel chest. When he gets a big hit, he stands on the bag and slams his fist defiantly into his palm, just like his father.
At 5'11", he can look Dad in the eye, and his eating habits are such that he won't weigh 155 for long. Petey also has the headfirst slide and, most important of all to his father, the work ethic. "I think he can hit because he's had more practice than anyone else," Pete Sr. says. "He stays with it."
"I want to go straight through the minors and get to the big leagues," Pete Jr. says. "It's all I want to do." He will be a sophomore at Oak Hills High this fall, and the next three years seem like a lifetime. "I hate school," Petey said last week. "I like gym and lunch. And girls. I hate everything else."
One of Petey's earliest baseball memories is sliding—headfirst, of course—into a chair and splitting his head open. As a toddler he sat in the crane operator's lap and helped deliver the first wrecking ball into Crosley Field. At four he told Reds coach Alex Grammas, who was throwing batting practice to Petey and couldn't throw strikes, to "Get that bleep over." At 11, as the Phillies' bat boy, Petey was the first to reach first base and congratulate Dad for hit No. 3,631, which broke Stan Musial's National League record.
On game days, Petey arrives at Riverfront Stadium at 3 p.m. and goes to his own locker in the Reds' clubhouse. He takes batting practice under the watchful eye of his dad and Cincinnati batting coach Billy DeMars. Although Pete Sr. is proud that his own father taught him to switch-hit at age nine, Petey bats only lefty. "The way he started out, he never proved to me that he needed to switch-hit," Pete Sr. says. "It was never necessary."
After batting practice Petey shags flies for the big guys, dresses in his game uniform that says ROSE 14 and sits in the dugout, trying to soak up the game. "I think it's good for him to be around his dad during the game," Pete Sr. says. "He fits in extremely well. He's down-to-earth, one of the guys." Petey says he learns, too. "Cusswords," he says.
Last week, while leading a Cincinnati team to the 15-and-under championship in the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series in Marion, Ohio, Petey proved he had learned more than a few epithets. Against a team from Utica, N.Y., he avoided a tag at third by sliding away from the base, then sticking his hand in to grab it. "A lot of 15-year-olds would have been out," said Atlanta scout Hep Cronin, whose son Danny played on the team. "He knew the third baseman would be on the front side of the bag, and he went around the back. That showed a lot of savvy."
Pete Sr. wasn't always as popular as he is now, and sometimes his detractors would take it out on Petey. As an 8-year-old, he heard cheers after he was beaned. "There's a lot of pressure sometimes," says Petey. "Just because of who I am, sometimes people don't like my team, and that's stupid."
"When I hear the other team's parents get on him, it makes me mad," says his mother, Karolyn. "He's a boy. Let him be one. Besides, they don't know that their kids go to Petey and say, 'Pete, watch me swing.' " Petey has lived with Karolyn since his parents' 1980 divorce, and theirs is a relationship of two pals as well as mother and son. Last week she washed the team uniforms every night. "If there's even a spot on his uniform, I have to wash it over," Karolyn says. "He tells me, 'You have to look like a ballplayer.' "
The most important countdown in Petey's life is 89 days. On Nov. 16 he turns 16, and he would love to carry his license in a red Porsche 930S. "Dad promised me I could have one if I hit .400," he says, "and I hit .428 at school." Petey's realistic, though. He would settle for any mode of transportation better than what his father gave him last Christmas, a horse. "That thing scares the heck out of me," Petey says. "I won't even get near him."
This Christmas, Petey's hoping for a batting cage and pitching machine to install in his basement so he can hit all winter. One night last week in Marion, Van Halen was blasting out of one motel room, and the Fat Boys were rapping in another. While his teammates practiced hanging out, Petey stood in the parking lot, practicing his swing.