After five months they let the Hit King out of prison and move
him to a halfway house in Cincinnati. He isn't exactly free yet,
but at least he can roam around. His life is almost his own
again. Practically the first thing he does, he gets on the
telephone and calls his son and tells him he's dying for a Big
Mac and fries.
"All right," replies the son. "No problem, Dad."
They agree to meet at a sports mall in town. It's an amusement
park of sorts with, among other things, batting cages where you
pay to challenge machines that fire baseballs. The Hit King and
his son embrace when they see each other. The boy can feel
something drubbing hugely in his throat, keeping time with his
heart. When the Hit King finishes eating, they walk to one of
the batting cages. It's way in back: the one that throws 80-mph
fastballs, the highest speed offered by any of the machines.
"Turn that damn thing on, Jay," the Hit King barks to the fellow
who runs the place.
Who can guess how long it's been since he stood in a batter's
box and took a swing? Years, the boy would estimate.
The Hit King gets a bat and goes to stand at the plate. He looks
the way he did in the old days, before the world came to know
him as a gambler and a tax cheat. He again could be baseball's
greatest star, its most prolific hitter, the workingman's hero,
adored for how he scrapped and hustled. He crouches over, with
his feet set shoulder length apart, the bat held steady, his
thick, blunt hands gripping the handle, a gaze of bitter
defiance on his face.
The machine hums and spits a hard one. The Hit King steps
forward, and the bat whips around and lets go a crack, and the
ball flies on a bead and clanks noisily against the contraption
from which it sprang. A clutch of people witness the
demonstration, and none of them doubt that the studbolt in the
cage is Pete Rose.
"He could get a hit off God," the boy mutters to himself. "God
could be on the mound, and he'd still get a hit."
The Hit King looks up to the heavens with as much curiosity as
contempt, then over at the boy, Pete Rose Jr., whose flesh has
suddenly gone cold with chills. "Gentlemen, some things never
change," the Hit King announces in a voice way louder than usual.
He lets the bat fall to the ground and strides out of the cage,
the boy closely following.
Well, maybe he really wasn't a boy. After all, Pete Rose Jr. was
21 then, in 1991, and a professional ballplayer himself, though
one banging around minor league towns such as Erie and
Frederick, South Bend and Kinston. Maybe it's the Junior that
brings to mind a child, less than equal to the Senior who sired
"You're the man of the house now," his mother, Karolyn Rose,
used to tell him. But this was never true. Big Pete could be out
on the road playing ball with the Cincinnati Reds, or off
building a new life and a new family with another woman, and he
was still such a presence that you couldn't deny him.
Sometimes the world, let alone the game of baseball, seemed to
have enough room for only one man named Pete Rose. "My father
could walk through the door right now and I could have my back
to him and I'd know he was there," says the son, half a
continent away from where Big Pete happens to be at the moment.
"I mean, he's the Hit King, the best hitter the game ever saw.
Of course I'd know he was there."
These days the father calls him Pete. Not Petey, as most of the
old-time Reds still do, and not Junior, as other friends
sometimes do. But Pete Rose Jr. isn't even his name. It's Peter
Edward Rose II, which is the way his parents wanted it recorded
on his birth certificate. To be any man's Junior is to live in
history's grip. It is to follow a trail, and in the case of Big
Pete, that trail would be forever widening.
Eight months after the boy was born, Big Pete barreled into the
Cleveland Indians' Ray Fosse to give the National League a 5-4,
12th-inning victory over the American League in the 1970
All-Star Game. Big Pete also barreled into a nation's
consciousness as the sort of fellow who meant to win at any
cost. Whatever you called him, the son of the Hit King would
have much to live up to.
"Tell you the truth, my name has always sounded sort of bratty
to me, like Little Lord Fauntleroy or something," says the son.
"I mean, Peter Edward Rose the Second? I guess it's Second that
I was never so crazy about. People call me Pete Junior, and I
don't correct them, never did. It sounds a lot less pretentious."
"Ask me, I wish they'd just drop the Junior altogether," says
Karolyn, still unhappy with her ex-husband for a list of marital
transgressions that led to their divorce in 1980. "At the
ballpark when they announce Pete they always say, 'Now hitting,
number 14, Pete Rose Jr.' Instead they should say, 'Now hitting,
number 14, Pete Rose.' I mean, his dad isn't even in baseball
anymore. Just call him Pete Rose, for heaven's sake."
Pete Rose Jr., now 27, is playing his ninth year of minor league
baseball, and by far his best one. As a third baseman for the
Double A Chattanooga Lookouts, a Reds farm team, he's hitting a
team-high .315. For a couple of weeks this summer he played for
the Triple A Indianapolis Indians, the closest he's been to the
big leagues except for those weird days of the baseball strike,
when he filled in during spring training of 1995 as a
replacement player for the Chicago White Sox.
With Indianapolis he hit .225 in a dozen games and was beginning
to slump, and he found himself spending more time in the dugout
than on the field. Pete grew frustrated, especially when manager
Dave Miley sat him down against righthanded pitchers even though
Pete, as a lefthanded batter, had the platoon advantage. He
worried about losing momentum. He confronted Indianapolis
management after the All-Star break in July and asked to be sent
back down to Chattanooga. The team complied, and since then Pete
has been one of the top hitters in the Southern League. If the
Reds fail to call him up by September, he hopes to attract the
attention of other teams. He'd gladly defer his dream of playing
in Cincinnati for a big league assignment with an organization
such as the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays,
expansion teams set to begin play next year.
That he even has a realistic chance of reaching the majors
leaves "a lot of people in baseball scratching their heads and
wondering how it can be," says Von Joshua, a hitting coach with
the Nashville Sounds, the White Sox's Triple A affiliate. Since
becoming a pro at 18, Pete has played on 12 teams in four
organizations, and until this year with Chattanooga he had never
hit higher than .300. Until this year, in fact, his lifetime
batting average, after some 2,800 low-minor-league at bats, was
.246, and he'd been written off by many who had tracked his
"I worked with Pete in Class A ball [with the White Sox
organization] a few years back, and he used to tell me he was
going to make it to the big leagues," says Joshua. "At the same
time, I'm talking to the organization, and in their eyes he's
not even a prospect. He's a filler--if you need help at third
base in your Double A club, send Pete there; if your Class A
club needs somebody, send Pete. He filled spots."
Set on proving the White Sox wrong, Pete signed with the Reds
this past off-season and added 25 pounds to a body that now
resembles a middle linebacker's. The added muscle has helped him
drive the ball deeper, and it has improved his speed in the 40
to 4.9, quicker by .2 of a second. He has also gained
confidence. This spring when people asked how he'd feel if he
got called up, he cut them off and said, "Hey, it's when I get
"A guy like Pete, you can't ever count him out," says Julian
Mock, the director of scouting for the Reds. "The odds are
stacked against him, in that he's played so long and hasn't made
it to the big leagues yet. But so much is based on what a team's
needs are. A trade, expansion, injury--there are plenty of ways
he could get in. I sure wouldn't want to say he's close to being
In June, upon learning of his promotion to Triple A, Pete called
three people. First was his wife, Shannon, the dark-haired
beauty he married in 1995 after a courtship that went back to
their days as sixth graders at John Foster Dulles Elementary
School in Cincinnati. Second, he called Karolyn. Then he phoned
his old man.
Of the three, Big Pete was hardest to reach, but that has always
been the case. Big Pete splits his time between South Florida
and Southern California. He runs the Pete Rose Ballpark Cafe and
hosts his nationally syndicated radio talk show in Boca Raton,
while his wife, Carol, lives in Los Angeles with their children,
Ty, 12, and Cara, 8. As a result, Big Pete seems to live his
life somewhere in between, neither in one place nor the other.
After several tries, just moments before Pete boarded the flight
that would take him to Indy and his first game with the Indians,
he finally tracked down his father. "Hey, Dad, they're moving me
up," said the son.
"Yeah, I know," answered the father. "Your sister just called
and told me that."
It has long been Pete's dream to have it this way: Big Pete
driving with him to Pete Rose Way and Riverfront Stadium, now
Cinergy Field. In his dream the two of them clown around
together in the clubhouse, just as they did years ago when Pete
was the Reds' batboy and Big Pete and Karolyn were still a
couple. When the P.A. announcer ticks off the name Pete Rose in
the starting lineup, the crowd comes to its feet and erupts in
raucous cheers. The crowd is celebrating the father as much as
In 1989 commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Big Pete from baseball
for having gambled on sports. The great Pete Rose, declared
Giamatti, had engaged in a "variety of acts which have stained
the game." Because of that, Big Pete has been forced to stay
clear of the clubhouse in the ballpark where he built his
"Call me a day ahead of time," Big Pete said on the phone.
"What?" said his son.
"A day ahead. Call me and let me know when you make it up, so I
can be there."
"You'll be there?"
"Damn right I'll be there."
Later somebody asked Pete what Major League Baseball might have
to say about his father's joining him at Cinergy Field, and he
sounded as cocksure and bullheaded as Big Pete ever did. "They
can fine me," he said. "I'll pay whatever it takes. What are
they going to do, anyway, keep him out?"
He shook his head with a violent jerk. "I'll go it alone if I
have to, but that's the dream: I want to do it with him."
During those heady days earlier this summer when he found
himself a step away from the big leagues, Pete became a minor
celebrity in the world of sports. TV, radio and print reporters
jockeyed for his time, and before games he often held impromptu
press conferences in whatever ballpark in whatever town the
Indianapolis Indians were visiting. Like his old man, the kid
ate up the attention.
Although at 6'2" and 225 pounds he stands a couple of inches
taller and weighs 17 pounds more than the original Pete, the son
is a near twin of the father. They look so much alike that,
young Pete likes to joke, "somewhere along the way the freckles
left Dad's back and hopped onto mine." Place his baseball card
next to one of Big Pete's early cards and you'd be hard-pressed
to distinguish one Pete Rose from the other. In fact, the son's
batting stance is different from his father's, but in the pose
preserved on his card he gives a nod to yesterday by standing
just as his old man used to.
"What's it like being Pete Rose's son?" came the inevitable
question from reporters. And without hesitation came Pete's
inevitable reply: "There isn't anybody prouder of his father
than me, and nobody prouder to have the same name. The man's the
Hit King. Who wouldn't be honored to be the son of one of the
greatest baseball players who ever lived?"
What he didn't tell the reporters was how painful, lonely and
confusing it often has been to fill that role, and how credit
for his recent success belongs more to his mother, his wife and
his in-laws than to his father. Pete Rose Jr. has been playing
organized baseball since he was five years old, but Big Pete has
attended fewer than 10 of his games and left most of those
before they were over. Until a reporter recently told him, Big
Pete didn't even know that his son's Cincinnati team--Budde Post
No. 507--won the American Legion World Series in 1988, an event
that Pete Jr. rates as "one of the high points of my life. It
hurts me that he didn't know about it, but it doesn't really
matter if he knew or not. I know I played in it, Shannon knows I
played in it, her mom and dad know I played in it, and my mom
knows I played in it. Dad's the one who missed out."
That Big Pete sometimes seems a stranger to the facts of Pete's
story has long angered Karolyn, who says she was "both a mother
and a father to Pete and his sister, Fawn," who is 32 and a
restaurant manager in Cincinnati. Karolyn hasn't seen much of
Big Pete in the last 17 years, but time hasn't dampened her
rage. Given an opportunity, she still takes shots at him. "The
man could've had the world," she says. "I never would've
divorced him had he not flaunted [an extramarital affair] in
front of the children. One day Petey came home and said, 'Mom,
guess who was at the ballpark?' I said, 'I don't know. Who?' He
said, 'Dad's girlfriend.' Later Big Pete hit him for that. He
can call me a liar, but it's the truth. I told him, 'Pete Rose,
you son of a bitch! That'll be the last time you hit one of our
kids for telling the truth!'"
Of course, she is not the only one taking shots. Big Pete: "I
tell you, it's kind of strange, but when I was married to her,
she was a size 3. What is she now, a 23? She's three times
bigger than [his current wife]. How can you live with me as long
as she did and have so little pride?"
Through it all, Pete has somehow remained devoted to both of his
parents. "Look, the man's been through enough," he says when
asked to enumerate his own grievances against his father. Rather
than carp about the times Big Pete wasn't available for him, he
focuses on those days they spent together. He even exaggerates
the number of times they speak on the telephone, telling
reporters they call each other at least once a week when the
frequency is closer to once a month. And no one has argued his
father's case for induction into baseball's Hall of Fame more
passionately than he.
As a gesture of support for his father, Pete writes "H.K." and
"4,256" in the dirt at third base before the start of each game.
H.K. stands for Hit King, and 4,256 is the record number of hits
Big Pete got in his career. "It's a way of bringing him into the
ballpark with me, of keeping him in the game," says the son. He
also taps two fingers against his left shoulder in salute to his
old man, and occasionally he gives fans a flutter by imitating
his father's batting stance.
Big Pete seems to think these rituals help his son at the plate
("Anything that helps Pete hit is fine with me," he says), but
the son performs them for a different reason. "It's really about
me loving him," he says. "But I think he has a hard time
understanding that or recognizing it. People always ask me, 'How
can you not have bitterness toward your dad?' Of course I get
mad at him. But think about it: He's the only father I have and
the only one I'll ever have. It's stupid to have one of those
relationships where you don't talk. It's hard for him--very
hard--to show emotion. That was how he was brought up. So what
if he's failed me at times? I'm sorry, but that's not enough to
keep me from loving him."
Pete Rose and Karolyn Engelhardt first met at a Cincinnati
racetrack in the summer of 1963. He was young and brash, but no
more so than she. They knocked heads from the moment of their
"Don't you play football for a local dairy?" she asked.
"Are you s------' me?" he answered in a loud voice. "I play for
the Cincinnati Reds."
Once, when Big Pete told Pete about those old days, he remarked
that in his opinion no woman from Cincinnati ever looked better
in a miniskirt than K.R.
They lived a charmed life, and one that seemed infinitely larger
than everyone else's. "The Rose name in Cincinnati was like the
Kennedy name in Boston," says Carroll Tieman, Pete Jr.'s
father-in-law. "Pete Rose was a god, and because of that his
children were special. Everybody knew them and idolized them.
Karolyn was a beer-and-pretzels kind of girl. She was
good-looking but rough on the edges, and she had a mouth like a
lion--the woman could really let out a roar. Sometimes it seemed
they were in a class all their own."
As if to prove this, each morning Karolyn drove Fawn and Petey
to school in a Rolls-Royce. And whenever new ballplayers moved
to town, Karolyn greeted their wives and introduced them to the
city's best doctors, neighborhoods and shopping centers. Fawn
became the first daughter to suit up for the Reds' annual
father-son game, and short, stocky Petey was a fixture in the
team's clubhouse, living every kid's fantasy. Two of his closest
friends were sons of his father's teammates: Ken Griffey Jr. and
Eduardo Perez, both big leaguers today.
"Hey, Petey, who's your favorite player?" Reds second baseman
Joe Morgan made a habit of asking him.
"My dad," the boy always answered, knowing that Morgan would
sulk off, pretending to be hurt.
When boxes stuffed with sporting goods arrived from
manufacturers, Big Pete let the boy have whatever he wanted.
"The only thing I saved from back then is a black Mizuno
All-Time Hits Leader bat that Dad gave me," says Pete. "I told
myself, One day I will use this bat in the big leagues. It's
waiting at home, ready to be broken out whenever I get the call.
After I use it that once I'm going to put it away
forever--unless I hit a home run or something. Then I might have
to use it again."
Back then, when Pete was nine, "everything seemed perfect," he
says. "And then one day my mother had Fawn and me pack our bags
and she took us to Puerto Rico for some kind of vacation--but in
the middle of school and in the middle of winter, and without my
father. We just threw some clothes together and left. No
explanations. We stayed with [Reds first baseman] Tony Perez's
family for two or three weeks. Sure enough, we finally returned
to Cincinnati. But nothing was ever explained to me, and nothing
was the same again. I just remember crying all the time because
my dad was no longer around."
The son still joined the father at the ballpark, but less
frequently than before. At home his mother doted on him, often
telling him not to follow his father's example. Her hurt seemed
monstrous, impenetrable. One day at Riverfront, she confronted
Carol Woilung, the blonde bartender and former NFL cheerleader
with whom Big Pete was having an affair, and ripped a diamond
necklace off her throat. "It belongs to Fawn," Karolyn said in a
fighting tone. Two other times Karolyn, having no jewelry to
rescue, simply punched Carol in the face. "I didn't appreciate
being messed on," she explained later.
However quick she was to assail Big Pete in public, Karolyn
seemed to hold the memory of their marriage as sacred. For nine
years, on the anniversary of their wedding, Karolyn set a place
for Big Pete at the dinner table.
In the boy's dreams, his mother and father put their feuding
aside long enough to attend one of his games as a family, but in
reality the two of them always acted as if they couldn't stand
having to breathe the same air. On the rare occasions that Big
Pete bothered to show up at Pete's games, he stayed as far from
his ex-wife as possible. "Mom would be behind home plate, Dad
would be way down the third base line or someplace," recalls the
son, shaking his head. "Me? I'd just be nervous."
He was 15 that day in September 1985 when Big Pete raced past Ty
Cobb's celestial dust and claimed the alltime hits record. Petey
watched it happen from the Reds' dugout. K.R. and Fawn were in
the stadium, too, brought back to witness a piece of history to
which they justly had a claim, and so was Carol Woilung, now Big
Pete's wife, cradling 10-month-old Ty Rose, whose name reflected
a connection to not just one but two of the most primitive men
ever to play the game.
Almost against his will, Petey raced out to meet his dad, eyes
blinking against the storm of camera flashes lighting the
stadium. The father who never showed emotion stood at first base
sobbing into an open hand. "I was afraid he was going to tell me
to get back in the dugout," says the son. "But when I got up to
him, he threw his arms around me. That was the first time he
ever hugged me, as far as I can remember. I started crying. I'm
not scared to cry. God knows I did it that day."
Down on the field somebody presented Big Pete with an
arrangement of red roses. In the dugout Petey removed a couple
from the spray, then took an elevator to the box seats where
Karolyn and Fawn were sitting. "Mom, you and Fawnie deserve to
be down there with him," he said, and handed each of them a
In the past Pete had lost his father to baseball, but now he
watched as Big Pete was consumed by something greater. If you
believed the poets, disguised in those days as sports
columnists, Big Pete belonged to the ages, and that lasted a lot
longer than nine innings. More than ever, Pete seemed to be
K.R.'s son and hers alone. "All my man-to-man talks--the birds
and the bees, that sort of stuff--came from Mom," he says.
She had a batting cage built for him in the front yard of their
house, and then she contributed a Jugs pitching machine. When
Pete developed a problem with his swing, she studied it at
length and offered advice on how to correct it. To each of his
American Legion games she brought a crate of oranges and a
collection of rags that Petey and his teammates used to towel
When he called her from school and complained of not feeling
well, she said he could come home. She knew he was faking it,
but she also knew that an hour of batting practice was sometimes
as important as one of English composition.
Not that Big Pete didn't contribute. He called his boy on
occasion, though their conversations rarely lasted very long or
touched on subject matter deeper than baseball. To his credit,
Big Pete was a generous provider. As a teenager, Petey drove a
Porsche and a Chevy Blazer. "At night, at home, I'd swing that
Blazer around and put the headlights on high beam so that I
could take BP," he says. "I'd hit against the machine until it
got late and Mom came out and told me it was time to call it a
Seventeen was also the age when he finally got Shannon Tieman to
go steady with him. In his opinion she was the prettiest girl at
Oak Hills High and maybe in all of Cincinnati. On top of that,
she was an academic achiever, while his grades fell just short
of mediocre. She was a person everyone seemed to admire and
emulate, while he was a rebel who prowled the halls between
classes, thumping a baseball into a glove.
For good luck he gripped Big Pete's Mizuno bat when he finally
got up the nerve to ask her to be his one and only. "I had the
phone between my ear and my shoulder," he recalls. "I took a
swing or two, took another swing or two, then I popped the
As a high school senior in 1988 he hit 17 home runs and batted
around .440, impressive numbers even in the intensely
competitive Cincinnati area. Big Pete, then the Reds' manager,
encouraged him to continue his education, arguing that he'd get
a more lucrative pro contract with a year or two of college
under his belt. The day before the spring draft, Petey worked
out at Riverfront Stadium for Reds scouts. They seemed to like
him, he says, "but later I learned they talked my dad out of
drafting me. They thought it would be too much pressure--him and
me in the same organization." Projected as a high draft pick, he
wasn't selected until the 12th round, by the Baltimore Orioles.
Figuring Big Pete wanted him, teams had turned to other talent.
Pete waited until the end of summer to sign with the Orioles and
was sent to the instructional league. Big Pete's battles with
Giamatti started not long after; then he got into trouble with
the Internal Revenue Service for failing to declare earnings
from card shows and from sales of sports memorabilia. That led
to his five months in prison. It also led to the biggest
nightmare of Pete Rose Jr.'s young life.
Just breaking into the minors and filled with dreams of an
important career, Pete became the target of so much fan abuse
that the manager of one of his teams twice sent him home to
escape the heckling. The ballpark, for so long the place where
he was happiest, became a personal hell. As soon as his name was
announced, fans waved money in the air and offered him bets.
When he came up to the plate, they chanted, "IRS! IRS! IRS!"
"Can you believe that?" says his father. "Can you believe that
in this country it was actually detrimental for someone to have
the name Pete Rose? The thing was, they didn't know how to get
to me, but they knew where he was."
One night during a game in Macon, Ga., a drunk fan rode Pete
relentlessly, first attacking Big Pete, then Fawn and K.R. "Hey,
Rose," the man shouted, "your mama's up at the top of the
stadium, and she's paying us to do her!"
A low wall was all that separated Pete from the man. "I didn't
hear you," Pete said. "Come a little closer." When the man dared
to step up to the wall, Pete lunged at him. He intended to drag
the man into the dugout, "where I was going to kill him," Pete
says, but teammates intervened and pulled them apart.
As soon as the game was over, Pete sprinted into the parking
lot. He spotted the man trying to run away, with his wife or
girlfriend in tow, and quickly fell in behind them. The man
unlocked his car, and Pete opened the rear door and sat directly
behind him. "What do you say now?" Pete asked. "You want to tell
me something now?" The man, silent, stared straight ahead.
"Why don't you turn around and look at me, and we'll settle our
problems right here," Pete said. "You can hit me first."
Pete could see his teammates surrounding the car. They seemed to
be daring the man to try something. "Come on!" Pete shouted.
"Say something about my mother! Say it!"
Then suddenly he found himself being yanked from the car, his
teammates circling him, leading him back to the clubhouse. "It
hurts," he said later. "I can take them talking about me. I just
can't take it when they talk about my family."
Busy with baseball, Pete made only one trip to see his father at
the federal prison in Marion, Ill. A friend drove with him, and
they rented a hotel room near the facility. "It was the worst
experience of my life," Pete says. "But I wanted to be there for
him. We sat in this big, open room with tables everywhere. He
was wearing prison clothes. We talked from about nine in the
morning until they made me leave at five or six, and it felt
like only about 10 minutes. The toughest thing was not being
able to take him home. I wanted him home with me more than I
ever did in my whole life."
Their conversation was loose and comfortable, never touching on
the profound, never attempting to make sense of the past. As
always, they were a couple of ballplayers who happened to share
a name. At the end of the day Pete was unable to speak, and a
pain radiated from his heart. "As I was leaving," he says, "I
turned around and saw Dad standing there. He had his hand up, he
was waving goodbye, and he had this sad expression on his face,
and I couldn't help it, I started crying. I cried as I left the
building, and I cried on the drive back to the hotel, and I
cried when I got in the room. It was a long time before I felt
Not surprisingly, the stress of those years took its toll on
Pete's game. In 1991 he hit .217. He was so anxious at the plate
that he started moving on the ball before it was pitched. This
continued for several seasons, most of them spent in Class A.
"God, the things that guy went through," says Carmine Cappuccio,
a former teammate of Pete's who plays for the Nashville Sounds.
"You just had to admire him. I remember thinking, right before I
met him, that he'd be cocky because of who he was, and he might
be hard to get to know. But he turned out to be such a great
guy. And every day he went out there and played like his dad
played. At the end of the game, he'd come in the dugout and just
drop. 'That's all I got left,' he'd say. It was how he wanted
it. 'That's all I got left.'"
Shannon and Karolyn made it to as many of Pete's games as they
could, and at the ballpark they became his outspoken defenders.
When fans got rowdy upon hearing him introduced, Shannon said to
those nearby, "Hey, we're family here. Easy now." But that
didn't always quiet the crowd.
In Knoxville one night somebody yelled, "Hey, Rose, 5 to 1 you
don't get a hit." Pete responded with a double, but when he
reached second base, something compelled him to keep running. At
third he slid in headfirst, safe, just the way his father used
to. When he hopped to his feet he heard his mother's lion roar
echo across the field: "Hey, numb-nuts, I'll be over to collect,
and you better have my money!"
In the old days at Riverfront, Big Pete liked to acknowledge his
family at the start of every game. He'd give a nod or a wave
while standing in the on-deck circle. In this Pete found himself
imitating his father yet again. He couldn't just tell you where
Shannon was sitting; he could tell you everything she did during
the game: how many times she went to the bathroom, what she ate,
the friends she talked to.
She often joined him on road trips. She was there in the
bleachers behind home plate even when he didn't get in the game,
there afterward with just the right words to pick him up. People
assumed she and Pete had a lot of money because of who he was,
but they had not a dime more than the $1,800 he made each month
as a Double A player and what little she earned as a substitute
teacher and as a part-time hostess at a steakhouse. "We had one
paycheck after I got fined $100 for fighting and $50 for getting
kicked out of the game," Pete says. "When all was said and done,
I had $9 left on my check."
They lived then, as they do now, in the basement of her parents'
house, eating every day at her parents' table, watching her
parents' TV. "Without Mom and Dad's help we'd be in trouble,"
says Shannon. "We wouldn't be able to eat."
"Yeah," says Pete, "and I wouldn't be in baseball."
One off-season he worked as a laborer for his father-in-law's
construction company. And last winter, after signing with the
Reds, he was a stock boy for a Cincinnati sporting-goods store.
He folded socks and shirts, dusted shelves and emptied trash
cans, vacuumed the floor in the showroom. He hated the job--not
because he found it demeaning but because every day somebody
asked him if he was still playing baseball. More than anything,
he resented the implication that he'd wasted enough time on a
dream that would forever elude him.
"A lot of people have been hard on Pete," says Mike Dulle, a
Cincinnati personal trainer. "He lives with his in-laws, he
doesn't own his own house. But they forget that Pete is chasing
a dream. It would be easy for him to say, 'O.K., everybody's
putting pressure on me, I'm going to stop this. We're going to
get an apartment, and I'm going to work.' But it will be a sad
day when he decides to do that. I told Pete, 'This dream doesn't
have to stop until you stop dreaming it.'"
After a couple of months Pete left the sporting-goods store,
despite the fact that he and Shannon owed about $14,000 to
credit-card companies. Spring wasn't far away, and he wanted to
spend more time working out at Dulle's gym. Because they had no
funds to waste, Shannon grumbled when Pete bought expensive
dietary supplements to help him gain weight, but she never did
it loudly enough to discourage him from continuing the practice.
In the minors he'd always played at around 200 pounds, lighter
than he would have liked. He knew that instead of hitting
pop-ups to the warning track, he could be driving the ball over
the fence. He went to Dulle and asked for help. Three months
later Pete had put on 25 pounds and gained a measure of
conviction he had never known before. One day Dulle told him to
write the words I CAN. I WILL. I AM on the bill of his cap. When
Pete asked why, Dulle said, "I can play in the big leagues, I
will play in the big leagues, I am going to stay in the big
"O.K.," Pete said, "I'll write it on the mirror at home."
"No," Dulle told him. "Write it on the bill of your cap. Take it
everywhere. Pete, when you finally step out there on Cinergy
Field, people will say you're lucky. You tell them that luck is
hard work and determination that finally pay off."
Pete and Shannon's financial situation might have crippled other
young marriages, but it had the surprising effect of
strengthening theirs. He couldn't afford to buy his wife dinner
at a decent restaurant, and yet there were days when he felt
rich beyond telling. In Carroll Tieman, Pete had found a
different example of fatherhood from the one Big Pete had set.
Tieman didn't own any major league hitting records, and he
wasn't "the biggest winner in the history of sports in this
country," as Big Pete liked to brag, but he was always there for
his wife and kids--home at night, home in the morning. The man
didn't particularly like baseball, but he went to Pete's games
every chance he got. The sight of him in the stands, there with
his wife, Carol, inspired Pete to think about the kind of man he
wanted to be.
"I've decided that if you have to do what my dad did to be the
greatest ever, then I don't want to be the greatest ever," Pete
confided to Shannon one day. She was silent for a moment, and he
said, "I've decided I'd much rather be the greatest father ever
than the greatest ballplayer ever. That doesn't mean I'm not
going to play in the big leagues, because I will. It just means
my family will always mean more to me."
Says Carroll Tieman, "I often think, What good is it to have won
at baseball but to have lived without your father standing there
after games, waiting to wrap an arm around you and say, 'You
make me proud, son. You make me happy'?" Pete, hearing his
father-in-law's remarks, gives no argument. But even with the
bond the two of them enjoy, Pete continues to seek Big Pete's
approval. He is his father's son, after all. And he will always
When Pete scheduled a visit with Big Pete before this season
started, he worried that his weight gain would go unnoticed. He
tried on a number of shirts and studied himself in a mirror to
select the one that made him look the most muscular. When at
last they got together, Big Pete shouted with surprise at the
sight of his son. "Damn," he said. "You gonna play football this
year or what? Jesus!" Few words have ever made Pete feel better.
"If you want to know the truth," Pete said later, "that's what
this baseball dream is all about--what I keep working so hard
for, and why I want it so bad. When you get down to it, I'm like
any other son. I just want to make my dad proud of me."
Home for the All-Star break, Pete and Shannon spend an afternoon
driving the old, familiar streets of Cincinnati, showing a
visitor their favorite haunts. There is the grade school where
they first became aware of each other; there the Skyline Chili,
where they went on their first date; there the Zip Dip, where
after ball games they stopped for ice cream cones.
They pass in front of the rambling white-brick house where Pete
and his family lived when he was a boy, and he is struck by the
height and density of the trees. "Back then I could hit a ball
over them," he says. "I broke the window of a station wagon
parked in the driveway next door."
He shakes his head sadly, and a moment passes before he speaks
again. "Mom and Dad's room was on the corner. Me and Fawnie had
rooms upstairs. There's a pool in back. Nice. That sprinkler
over there--that was second base. We always used a hardball." He
puts both hands on top of the wheel. "Come on, let me show you
the way we used to drive to the ballpark."
He is in no hurry. The weather is perfect, the roads
uncluttered. Less than a mile from Cinergy Field, driving along
I-75, Pete suddenly says, "When Shannon and I have a son, we're
going to name him Pete Rose III, after his grandfather, but
we'll call him P.J., for Pete Junior. That way, if he chooses to
play baseball, no one will know who he is when he steps up to
the plate. 'Now hitting, P.J. Rose.'" Pete glances at his wife.
"He'll be a ballplayer no better and no worse than all the
others out there."
The son of the Hit King exits onto Pete Rose Way, and there it
is, a house of memory and dreams, pale and gray in a wash of
midsummer sun. Pete removes his sunglasses and squints until his
eyes are narrow slits, and slowly he drives toward the stadium,
his focus less on the road than on his destination. As he gets
closer, however, a jumble of construction signs stops him.
Arrows seem to point in every direction but the way he wishes to
go. Chain-link fences bar the entrance. "I guess we can't get
any closer," he says.
Shannon reaches over and takes his hand, entwining his fingers
with hers. "We'll just have to come back later," she says.
Pete gives a nod, then turns around and starts back for home.