On Wednesday night Urban Meyer threw out the first pitch at Great America Ball Park in Cincinnati before the Reds hosted the Cleveland Indians. For a guy who played his college football in Cincinnati and who has friends and family in the Queen City it was a nice honor. But the real fun came an hour before the game when he got to meet his hero, Pete Rose, who Urban called "the best who ever played."
Believe it or not, Charlie Hustle is now 71, which shouldn't surprise me since I recently turned 51 myself. Still, it seems hard to believe that the all-time Hit King is now in his 70's and still not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I realize this is a Buckeye blog, and one that is usually devoted to football and basketball. But I coudn't resist sharing a few thoughts about Pete, because like Coach Meyer, he has always been an idol of mine.
Truth is, when I moved to Cincinnati in 1973, though I immediately became a fan of Ohio State (with Woody and Archie and the boys), my first love during my teenage years was the Big Red Machine. Early on my devotion was split between Johnny Bench and Pete Rose, but then I entered Western Hills High School in 1976, and proudly told my out of town family that I was attending "the same school as Pete." My folks had actually bought an old house in Price Hill that was no more than four blocks from where Pete's mom lived at the time, and sometimes my buddies and I would hang out on the corner hoping to catch a glimpse of the hardest working player in the game. Indeed, Rose became my hero.
I have no idea how many times I saw Pete play in person, but even when he returned in a Phillies uniform, and briefly, those awful colors of the Montreal Expos, I couldn't stay away. Maybe the most enjoyable game of them all was Opening Day, 1985, when Pete was in the starting lineup as a player-manager. My seats were out in left field, but I was just happy to be there. Nobody does Opening Day like Cincinnati, and it was a thrill to see Pete back where he belonged, with that "C" on his cap. I even bought tickets for September 11th, 1985, well ahead of time, luckily picking the night he would break the record. As fortune would have it, a work-related complication kept me from attending, but my wife and sister were there, flashing their cameras with 50,000 other fans. Yes, no doubt about it, Pete was a big part of my early life, even if I never got to actually shake his hand.
That's why I can relate to Urban being a little star struck. Charlie Hustle is and always has been bigger than life. The fact that the best coach in college football was turned momentarily into a kid again when he got to meet Pete doesn't surprise me at all.
And, now, as Pete enters his eighth decade of life, it is a complete travesty that the Hit King is still waiting to enter the Hall of Fame. Someday our nation will pause to watch six ex-ballplayers carrying Rose's casket out of a church building in Cincinnati. I can only hope that the day won't occur until he is enshrined in Cooperstown.