Pete Rose enjoys the thrill of Opening Day as much as any Reds fan and misses it as much, too.
But the fan in Pete Rose can wait, knowing that Opening Day will come again.
“They’re going to play baseball someday this year, and that’ll be Opening Day. Cincinnati fans will come out on Opening Day,” Rose told WCPO 9 Sports Director Caleb Noe by phone this week. “They’ll sell out and that’s what we have to live with because that is what we’ve got.”
With the season delayed by the COVID-19 crisis at least into mid-May, the 78-year-old Hit King had advice for players and teams facing a shortened season.
Be ready to go.
Rose’s own experience tells him the late start will put a greater importance on pitching.
“I think that’s going to boil down to the team that’s going to have the pitchers ready to pitch. I don’t know what team that could be,” Rose said. “Just because you’ve got the best pitchers in the league doesn’t mean that the best pitchers in the league are going to be ready to pitch when the season starts.
“I guarantee they’re going to cut spring training short to try to get the games in, because they need the money. The team with the best bullpen is probably the team that’s going to win the most games.”
Rose was with the Phillies in 1981 when a midseason strike wiped out more than 50 games. To drive up fan interest, Baseball decided to crown first-half and second-half division champions. The pitching-rich Phillies won the first-half NL East title with a 34-21 record but went 25-27 in the second half. The Expos won the second half and beat the Phillies in the first round of the playoffs.
Rose said hitters also need to get sharp and stay sharp.
“If I was [playing] today, I would find a cage somewhere,” he said. “There are cages around. I’d go every day and take batting practice. Today, you can even go to places indoors where you can take fly balls and ground balls.
“The only thing I missed during the strike of ’81 was games,” Rose said.
The Reds great can’t remember a time in his playing career when Opening Day in Cincinnati was called off except for 1966. That’s when rain washed out the opener at Crosley Field for three days in a row and the team started the season in Philadelphia. Rose went 2-for-4 in a 4-3 loss.
Rose has fond memories of his first Opening Day in 1963 when the hometown kid jumped from Class A to starting second baseman for the Reds. When the Reds took the field, Charlie Hustle hustled out of the dugout with the likes of Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson.
Rose went hitless that day and had to wait three more games for his first hit, a triple off Pirates starter Bob Friend. It was No. 1 of 4,256.
In 1974, Rose put the finishing touches on perhaps the most exciting Cincinnati opener after Hank Aaron tied Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record with a first-inning blast off Jack Billingham for No. 714.
The Reds fell behind 6-1, but Rose would go 3-for-5 with two doubles and three runs, scoring in the 11th winning to give the Reds a 7-6 win.