He relaxes in his Las Vegas home, turns on his big-screen TV and, just like every other baseball fan these days, is mesmerized by what he is witnessing.
He’s watching the lovable baseball team steal our hearts, captivate our souls, and arouse our imagination.
He is Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hit king, and he can’t keep his eyes off his former team, the Cincinnati Reds.
“These guys certainly don’t remind me of the Big Red Machine,” Rose tells USA TODAY Sports, “but they certainly are playing like the Big Red Machine. I watch them every single night. It’s unbelievable.
“Three weeks ago, they were playing stinko. I never dreamt this could happen a month ago. Not the way these guys were playing. Now, I can finally go out and wear my Reds cap in public again without fans throwing rocks at me.”
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Six months ago, Reds president Phil Castellini told a supporters club they have absolutely no chance to make the playoffs in today’s economic system, but believes they can lose less than 100 games.
Three months ago, they drew the fewest fans for a game in the 21-year history of Great American Ball Park.
A month ago, they were in last place in an awful division, a season-high-equaling eight games under .500.
Then, 2 ½ weeks ago, on June 6, they brought up infield prospect Elly De La Cruz to make his major-league debut.
Two weeks ago, they started their longest winning streak since 1937, winning 12 in a row until Saturday’s loss.
And today, they are sitting atop the National League Central, the most surprising team in baseball.
“I think it’s safe to say that the Reds will make the playoffs. I really believe that,” Rose said. “I think right now, with the roster the Reds have got, they can get better. They’re all a bunch of young kids, feeding off their success and building momentum.
“It’s going to be tough to beat these guys. They’ve got four or five young guys clicking at the same time. They will cool off. But they won’t all cool off.”
Rose continued: “These kids are really talented (De La Cruz, infielders Matt McLain and Spencer Steer and starting pitcher Andrew Abbott), and they’ve started off playing really good. You usually don’t start playing that well, and clicking at the same time, like they are.
“And that new kid, he can do just about everything.”
Indeed, De La Cruz is impersonating Rose with his infectious energy, his magnetism, oozing with talent. When he’s not beating out infield hits on grounders to first base as the fastest runner in the game, he’s hitting home runs into the Ohio River. In just his 15th game, he became the first Reds player since Eric Davis in 1989 to hit for the cycle, and he entered Sunday hitting .359 with a 1.064 OPS, including three homers, 10 RBI and eight stolen bases.
This is no fluke. This isn’t Aristides Aquino in 2019 when he hit .253 with 10 homers, 18 RBI and 1.361 OPS in his first 15 games, only to disappear into the night.
De La Cruz, who was in Class A just a year ago at this time, is the Reds’ most exciting young player since Davis broke into the big leagues nearly 40 years ago.
“He’s the best runner I’ve ever seen, and he has the most power I’ve ever seen,” says Reds veteran first baseman Joey Votto, “and he has the strongest arm I’ve ever seen. He has a chance to be something spectacular.
“The only comp I can think of is Mickey Mantle. A young Mickey Mantle.”
Certainly, De La Cruz has awoken the Reds’ fan base that had dozed off for the past 10 years, with the Reds last winning a postseason game a decade ago, last winning a postseason series a quarter-century ago, and last winning the World Series in 1990.
The Reds, who last drew two million fans in 2015 at Great American Ball Park, sold out their entire weekend of games against the Atlanta Braves.
“These fans aren’t stupid,” Rose said. “You have to give them a reason for them to come out. Well, the Reds are giving them that reason.”
Rose, the 17-time All-Star, three-time World Series champion and all-time hits leader, was banned from baseball in 1989 for illegally betting on baseball, made the first legal sports bet in Ohio on New Year’s Eve at the Hard Rock Casino in Cincinnati.
Rose, in what was considered nothing more than a promotional gimmick, placed his bet minutes after sports betting became legalized in Ohio.
He bet on the Reds to win the World Series.
Who’s laughing now?
“Hey, that’s my town,” Rose said. “That’s my ballpark. And don’t forget the ballpark is on Pete Rose Way.
“I’ll be there in October.”
- Pete Rose on Miami Marlins infielder Luis Arraez’s quest to become the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to hit .400: “I don’t think it’s possible for him, or anyone else. You’ve got to bat 500 times and get 200 hits. You just can’t bat that many times and hit .400. He’s a good hitter, but he’ll cool off. He’ll wind up in the .345-.350 range. But in our world, stranger things can happen. It would be great for baseball.”
- On today’s offense, where just nine players are hitting at least .300: “I’m tired of all of the home runs. It’s home run derby. As a baseball fan, I don’t give a (expletive) if a guy hits the ball 500 feet. That’s one RBI. Who gives a (expletive)? I know home runs are exciting, but look at a guy like (Arraez). That’s what I like to see. I’ve always admired players taking advantage of the situation like he is. I know people say, ‘Oh, the pitching is so good.’ So they ask me what I would be hitting if I played today. I tell them, ‘I don’t know, .200, .202, something like that.’ They say, ‘Really, the pitching is that great?’ I say, ‘No, it’s because I’m 81 (expletive) years old.”
- On the A’s relocating to Las Vegas: “Vegas is not going to be successful if they don’t win games. And if they don’t win games, people aren’t going to come. And if they don’t come, you’re not going to have any money to spend on free agents. All of the attention in Vegas is on the (Stanley Cup champion) Golden Knights. The town is going crazy over them, as they should. But I agree with Bryce (Harper). I think an expansion team would be better.”
Spreading the word
Kudos to former All-Star outfielder Dexter Fowler, who has courageously spoken about his chronic disease, ulcerative colitis, which affects the colon, and can cause irregular and embarrassing bowel movements at inappropriate times.
Fowler was diagnosed with the disease in 2009, his rookie season with the Colorado Rockies, and will continue taking medication for the rest of his life. He has partnered with AbbVie to raise awareness of the inflammatory bowel disease.
“I had no clue what was going on,” Fowler said. “I went to my trainer and was just genuinely scared. I had blood in my stool, and felt like I had to go to the bathroom all of the time. I thought I was dying.
“It’s so crazy, I didn’t know what was going on.
“I ended up buying a book called, ‘Crohn’s and Colitis for Dummies.'”
Fowler, 37, married with two young daughters, now wants to make sure he gets the word out, assuring them there is help along the way, raising awareness about ulcerative colitis.
“Nobody wants to talk about it, it’s uncomfortable,” Fowler says. “Nobody wants to talk about going to the bathroom. Sharing my story, hopefully more and more people come out and get help.
“It can be a life saver.”
Around the basepaths
- General managers are quietly rooting for the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals to keep losing simply to enhance the commodities at the Aug. 1 trade deadline. The White Sox are expected to widely shop starters Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and Mike Clevinger, along with veteran relievers Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly, providing they’re out of the race. The Cardinals are expected to place starters Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery, along with relievers Jordan Hicks and Giovanny Gallegos, on the market, if they fall out of it.
- While former Brewers GM David Stearns is expected to join the Mets as president of baseball operations after the season, several GMs believe that the Boston Red Sox might also end up bidding for his services.
- The Arizona Diamondbacks will soon join the San Diego Padres as teams who have been abandoned by Diamond Sports, and they will soon have their games produced by MLB. The financial repercussions are expected to be felt this winter when the D-backs stay out of the free agent market at a time they could use a veteran starter.
- The Mets and owner Steve Cohen showed their financial might when they paid the remainder of infielder Eduardo Escobar’s $9.5 million salary in return for two Angels fringe pitching prospects. So, for $4.8 million this year and $500,000 next year, the Mets paid for Class AA pitchers Coleman Crow and Landon Marceaux. “We’re not getting these players,” Mets GM Billy Eppler told reporters, “if Steve is not covering the money.”
- The Dodgers, even after promoting six players to make their major-league debuts this year, will have more prospects to trade for a veteran starter than any team in baseball. They certainly expect to be active in the pitching market. They have been riding Clayton Kershaw (9-4, 2.72 ERA), but if he gets injured, they could be in real trouble. Kershaw, 35, the only member of the Dodgers’ opening-day rotation not to go on the injured list this season, is on pace to pitch more innings and make more starts than at any time in his career since 2015. He has already made 15 starts with 89 ⅓ innings.
- Kudos to the Tampa Bay Rays and manager Kevin Cash for benching young star shortstop Wander Franco for two games for his behavior, and not trying to a camouflage the reasoning. They were upset with his verbal altercations with teammates, lack of hustle, and emotional outbursts after poor at-bats.
- Funny how all of that trade speculation in New York for Reds closer Alexis Diaz has suddenly stopped. The Reds always insisted he was staying. Now, everyone believes them as Diaz is one save behind San Francisco Giants’ Camilo Doval for the NL lead with 21.
- The Cleveland Guardians are desperate for offensive punch at the deadline and are willing to trade pitching. Their starting outfield of Will Brennan (4), Steven Kwan (2) and Myles Straw (0) has combined for only six home runs.
- New York Mets outfielder Tommy Pham could certainly be a valuable talent evaluator when his playing career ends. He was the only one predicting the Reds’ stardom a year ago when he was on their team. “People will laugh at me, but, you know … this team is a really good team that’s close,” Pham said last summer. “You’ve just got to add a piece or two and you have not only a contender, but a team that everybody’s looking at differently.”
- It’s a shame that MLB does not permit teams to trade their regular draft picks because it would be fascinating to see how many contenders would have attempted to trade up to grab LSU ace Paul Skenes and put him directly in the starting rotation.
- The Royals should be embarrassed that former GM John Schuerholz, who was GM of their team for 10 years and the architect of their 1985 World Series championship, is not in their team’s Hall of Fame, but the two-time World Series champion is in Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
- Quote of the week: Joey Votto, who made his season debut this week, when asked his thoughts of joining the Reds’ self-proclaimed America’s Team? “I’m glad I have my citizenship,’’ Votto said.
- Scouts were absolutely correct when they predicted that Fernando Tatis Jr. would win a Gold Glove award in his first year in right field. He has been sensational, leading all outfielders in defensive runs saved.
- Congratulations to White Sox infielder Elvis Andrus, who joined Miguel Cabrera and Nelson Cruz as the only active players to play in at least 2,000 games. He leads all active players with 341 stolen bases and ranks fourth with 2,036 hits.
- Three weeks ago, the New York Yankees dumped outfielder Aaron Hicks, who still was owed $27.6 million, after hitting just .188 with one homer and five RBI. Today, he is hitting .306 with four homers and 11 RBI with a .983 OPS for the Orioles.
- How much has life changed for the Orioles? They have not been swept in a single series since last May against the Detroit Tigers, the longest streak in the major leagues, 63 series and scouting. They’ve gone 114-87 entering Saturday since they were last swept.
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