Wichita Wingnuts

Pete Rose Jr. lives his father’s passion for baseball

Pete Rose Jr. wears the number 14 that his father made famous as the all-time leader in hits in Major League Baseball. Rose Jr. takes over this season as the manager of the Wichita Wingnuts.
Pete Rose Jr. wears the number 14 that his father made famous as the all-time leader in hits in Major League Baseball. Rose Jr. takes over this season as the manager of the Wichita Wingnuts. The Wichita Eagle

Charles Poe saw Pete Rose Jr. on a baseball field for the first time in 1994 and barely had time to form a misconception.

To strangers, Rose’s story was that of his father, Pete Rose, baseball’s career hits leader who was banned from the sport in 1989 for gambling on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds.

There was no separating the men, no matter how different their journeys in the game might have been. With that in mind, Poe approached Rose Jr., his teammate with the Prince William (Va.) Cannons.

“I was a little shy about coming up to him,” Poe said. “But I said, ‘You know what, he has a uniform on just like I do. I’m going to introduce myself.’ He was so down to earth. That persona of who his dad was, I’m sure me and a lot of other people were standoffish (toward) him. But he’d give you the shirt off his back, because that’s the kind of guy he is.”

Poe, a minor-league hitting coach, now counts Rose Jr. as his best friend. His story of meeting Rose Jr., who was hired in February to replace Kevin Hooper as Wingnuts manager, is one example of how Rose has found normalcy in situations others may deem exceptional.

“I tell everybody this – I’m just as normal as you are,” Rose Jr. said. “I put my pants on one leg at a time, I tie my shoes one shoe at a time. The only difference with me and every other kid … my dad’s got more hits than anybody else’s dad. That’s it.”

A cog in the Machine

Peter Edward Rose II – he never corrects people who call him “Junior” – was born in Cincinnati on Nov. 16, 1969. Forty-five days earlier, 28-year-old Pete Rose finished a season that saw him lead the National League with a .348 batting average, his career high, and 120 runs scored.

The elder Rose, a Cincinnati native, was the most popular player on the Big Red Machine teams that won the World Series in 1975 and ’76 with stars such as Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez.

His son, dressed in the home white Reds jersey with Dad’s No. 14 on the back, helped share the clubhouse with other players’ sons, such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Eduardo Perez, future Reds.

“We were just always at the ballpark,” Rose Jr. said. “And if we weren’t watching the game, we were in the tunnel playing pickle, getting jacked up for the father-son game, all this other good jazz. You just remember all the guys being in the clubhouse. They were always there, they were always together, they were always having fun.”

Rose Jr. was hooked. He loved being around the Reds, around baseball and – most of all – around his dad. He knew nothing different, and that’s how he wanted it.

“I wore my uniform every day to Riverfront Stadium,” Rose Jr. said. “I had to look like my dad, I had to be exactly the same, had to be perfect. At the earliest age, it’s all I wanted to do but it was because I wanted to be at my dad’s side.”

Rose Sr. could not be reached for comment.

A rough start

It didn’t take long for Rose Jr.’s childlike view of the game to transform into an intense passion – like his dad’s. Rose Sr., nicknamed Charlie Hustle, was known for getting the most out of his relatively limited talent and essentially willing himself into superstardom.

The younger Rose didn’t have the same physical gifts but was equally driven. He was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1988 and debuted the following year, just in time to be caught up in his dad’s gambling scandal, which was approaching a resolution.

Once the most popular figure in the game, Rose Sr.’s name had become a punch line. That meant, as far as strangers were concerned, so had his son’s.

“I visited him a few times in the minor leagues and (saw) the pressure that was put on him,” said Rose Jr.’s mother and Rose’s Sr.’s former wife, Karolyn Rose. “(Fans were) waving dollar bills at him and saying, ‘Who’d you bet on?’ It broke my heart. Again, I saw the strong man that he was.”

The experience toughened Rose, though it may not have prepared him for two more decades of similar treatment.

“I can sit here and tell you that in 21 years of playing in the States, I don’t think I’ve ever not heard something derogatory toward my family when I played,” Rose said. “…It made my skin really thick and I’m a better man for it, but I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy in a million years. It wasn’t fun to go to the ballpark, but you had to go do it. People can be cruel.”

Finally in the show

Rose toiled during an exhaustive minor-league career, playing Class-A baseball for seven years before advancing to Double-A in 1996.

“My dad said, ‘What are you going to do, quit?’ If (so), pack your bags and get on a plane. Go and play.’ ” Rose said.

After the ’96 season, Rose signed with the Reds and played most of 1997 in Double-A, hitting 25 home runs with 99 RBIs after changing his from his dad’s familiar crouch to an upright batting stance.

The Reds noticed and promoted the 27-year-old Rose to Cincinnati in September.

“I had goosebumps,” Karolyn Rose said. “It was the thrill of my life to see Petey make it into the big leagues.”

Rose was similarly giddy. He wore No. 14 – the last Reds player to do so – and collected his first hit in his debut in Cincinnati on Sept. 1 against Kevin Appier of the Kansas City Royals. His parents, sister Fawn and wife Shannon were in attendance.

“And probably 39,000 of my closest friends,” Rose said. “You look to the left, you look to the right, you see a familiar face. Whether it’s the grounds crew, the police officers in the dugout, people sitting on the third-base side, you can’t describe it. I knew everybody.”

Still trying

Rose spent the next 12 years unsuccessfully trying to get back to the highest level. He competed in spring training with several major-league organizations but was invariably sent back to the minors.

He played on an arthritic knee for the final seven years of his career. He was arrested in 2005 for distributing performance-enhancing drugs to teammates and spent a month in jail, but when he got out he began playing independent baseball for the Long Island Ducks.

Rose ended up playing for 26 professional teams. One of his most fond memories is playing in 2007 with Long Island along with former major leaguers such as Carl Everett and Edgardo Alfonzo. Even that year, though, was unfulfiling because it wasn’t the major leagues.

“What are you going to do?” Rose said. “Are you going to let them tell you it’s over? No, you’ve got to keep playing, keep grinding and hopefully something will happen.”

Rose retired at 39 after the 2009 season. He played 21 seasons, collecting 1,879 hits.

The next phase

The logical next step was for Rose to become a coach and a manager, which he did with the Chicago White Sox organization. After a year as a minor-league hitting coach, he managed the club’s rookie-league affiliate in 2011.

“He has a good feel for the game,” said Nick Capra, the White Sox manager of player development. “It was an easy transition for him. More than anything, it was just his experience he had as a player coming into player development.”

Christian Stringer, a Wingnuts infielder, played for Rose for two seasons in the White Sox system and, like Poe, saw any apprehension disappear.

“Definitely down to earth,” Stringer said. “He’s such a laid-back guy. He helped everybody kind of mold together in the locker room, and everybody got along. He just made it really easy to make that transition from college to pro ball.”

Not that the Rose family’s intensity doesn’t occasionally appear. The primary target for Rose, who fancies himself the “Hit Prince” to his father’s “Hit King?”

“Pitchers,” Stringer joked. “If you’re a pitcher, you’ve got a wall to climb before you get on his good side.”

The new normal

Rose’s goals haven’t changed – he wants more time in the major leagues, only now as a manager. He and Shannon have two kids, Isabella and Peter III, and he is more devoted to them than to the game.

“What makes me so proud of him is he’s such a great father,” Karolyn Rose said. “When you meet my grandson, you will say, ‘Oh my God, he’s a carbon copy of his dad.’ It’s spooky.”

He hasn’t totally accepted his limited time in the big leagues but has come to terms with it, and while he may not remain in awe of his dad, that appreciation has never subsided.

“We’re best friends, and what son wouldn’t want their dad to be their best friend,” Rose said. “It’s normal, man. I know why other people don’t think that. If you go to Cincinnati, that’s our guy. That’s the Babe Ruth of Cincinnati. If you’re from Cincinnati, you wore No. 14, you slid head first, you did all the other things.

“That’s our guy, so I get it. But we’re just a normal west-side Cincinnati family.”