FLORENCE, Ky. - The Hit King stepped into the batter’s box one last time on Tuesday night.
Hundreds of fans who came to the Florence Freedom game stood and cheered as 73-year-old Pete Rose, wearing a No. 14 Freedom uniform, walked up to the plate to lead off.
Standing in left-handed, Rose pointed to the outfield, just as baseball legend says Babe Ruth once did before hitting a homer to the spot.
The Reds great got into his familiar crouched batting stance and took one pitch, then another, before heading off to coach first base.
It was a low independent Pioneer League game, not the majors, since Rose is banned from baseball. But Rose said he enjoyed being on the field and chatting with young players again.
"These things are fun, and that’s what I said to these players: 'Enjoy the game,' because we know they’re not going to get rich playing here," said Rose.
Charlie Hustle said he had some simple advice for the Freedom.
"Keep hustling. Remember, there’s always somebody watching - somebody who might like how you run or how you hit. Keep busting your chops," Rose said, describing his own style that made him one of baseball's greatest stars.
Rose last faced a major-league pitcher 28 years ago in 1986 as player-manager of the Reds. He was banned from baseball 25 years ago in 1989 for gambling on Reds games.
There has been much speculation in recent weeks about whether commissioner Bud Selig will lift the ban before he retires in January. But Rose said it's mostly media, not him, doing the talking.
"Hey, it's just part of my life now. I’m trying to be a good citizen, promote baseball, pay your taxes," Rose said.
Rose coached at first base and then at third base for a few innings until the game was stopped in the seventh inning and the Freedom retired his number.
It's the first professional team to officially retire Rose's jersey.
Freedom officials said they felt it was time to honor Rose's contribution to the national pastime. Rose also threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Rose gained hero status in Cincinnati as part of the Big Red Machine that won two World Series (and lost two) during his career.
Rose finished his MLB career with 4,256 hits, the most in history. A three-time batting champion, Rose won a third World Series title with the Phillies and was a 17-time All-Star. He played for the Reds from 1963-1978 and again from 1984-1986 as player-manager.
Since his ban, many Big Red Machine fans have wanted the ban lifted and Rose placed in the Hall of Fame for his achievements as a player.