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From interloper to honored guest. If for only one night, Pete Rose returns to baseball.

Posted at 10:19 PM, Sep 11, 2010

His first visit to Great American Ball Park was as a paying patron. For the record, Pete Rose was comfortably ensconced in the Diamond Club that night in 2004. It spawned another of those classic moments attached to one of sports most engaging personalities.

Diamond Club seats (at $230 each) include dining privileges in an area reserved for the well heeled or well connected. One wall of the club features a large picture window which Reds players pass on their way to the field.

As Pete was eating he looked up saw Barry Larkin, Sean Casey and Adam Dunn among others and they saw him, stopping in their tracks. Pete got up, went to the window and being soundproof, resorted to pantomimes with his former players.

After retaking his seat, Rose told his dining companions, "You know, except for the fact that there was no phone that was like visiting day in the joint!"

An unfortunate reference to the five months Pete spent at the Marion Federal Correctional Facility in Illinois, after pleading guilty to filing false income tax returns in 1990.

Saturday night, though, Pete returned to Great American Ball Park, not as a spectator but as an honored guest. Not just of the Reds but of Major League Baseball.

Twenty-one years of estrangement were interrupted briefly by a tribute to Pete on the 25th anniversary of his record setting 4,192nd Major League hit, eclipsing Ty Cobb as the most prolific hitter in history.

Pete has been part of two previous on field tributes but those were in conjunction with fan promotions sponsored by VISA. Meaning MLB got paid. Those aside, Saturday night was the first time Pete has been allowed on the field in his hometown.

Though the game wasn't a sellout, the fans who were there warmly greeted former Reds Tommy Helms, Eric Davis, Tom Browning, Cesar Geronimo and Hall of Famer Tony Perez.

The real ovation of course came later, after video taped remarks about the occasion were played on the video screens. Baseball insisted that Pete not address the audience over a live microphone. Pete's comments on everything from his gratitude to the fans to appreciation for United States armed forces were taped two weeks ago then forwarded to MLB for review before they aired.

Katy Feeney, MLB Senior Vice President of Club Relations, was on hand to ensure nothing untoward was said or suggested. The tight orchestration smacked of censorship but it was better than nothing, I suppose.

And it mattered little once Pete was driven through the center field fence on a golf cart and circled the field with his right index finger raised in the same pose he struck 25 years ago when he became number one on baseball's all time hit list.

Pete embraced his former teammates and players before Reds President Bob Castellini presented a crystal commemorative statue in recognition of the occasion.

Ms. Feeney had to grimace when thousands of fans broke into a brief unified chant of "Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame. Hall o fFame".

That isn't likely to happen while Pete is alive. But then again,there were those who never thought they'd see Rose gracing the grass at GABP in their lifetime.