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Rose's reinstatement talk cheers hometown
CINCINNATI -- Between bites of cheese-smothered chili, between sips from paper cups at the office water cooler, one name is on the tip of everyone's tongue.
Pete. Pete. Pete.
Word that Cincinnati's most famous -- some would say most infamous -- sports figure might be getting a second chance has enlivened a city dragged down by the Bengals' predictable losses and the Reds' unpleasant surprises.
Sports talk shows are jammed with calls from fans hoping that Pete Rose will get reinstated by commissioner Bud Selig before the Reds open next season in their new ballpark.
Rose, who accepted a lifetime ban for gambling in 1989, met with Selig last month, and the two sides are trying to reach an agreement that would reunite baseball's hits king with his hometown team.
It's refreshing news for a city saddled with the NFL's worst team and a baseball team that tried to trade Ken Griffey Jr. this offseason.
"We'd probably see the longest sustained standing ovation for any player in the history of the franchise," Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman said Thursday. "Whenever he's allowed to come back, it's going to be exciting. It will be the fulfillment of a dream for a lot of people, to one day see him reinstated to the game.
"That would be something -- one of the more memorable moments."
Rose gave Reds fans some of the most memorable moments in franchise history. He bowled over Ray Fosse to win an All-Star game at Riverfront Stadium, put the steam in the Big Red Machine that won consecutive World Series in 1975-76, and returned to break Ty Cobb's hits record in Cincinnati as player/manager.
His lifetime ban and his jail stay for tax crimes barely dented his popularity in Cincinnati, where he grew up and went to high school. Most fans locally thought that even if he bet on baseball, he should be forgiven.
Thirteen years later, there's a chance he might.
"It'd be awesome," said Chris Thomas, 26, a University of Cincinnati student and Cubs fan from Chicago. "I don't think people should be judged for the bad things they do, but the good."
Reds fans are still smarting from a perceived snub by Selig, who allowed Rose to appear at two World Series games as part of promotions that benefited baseball.
However, baseball refused to let Rose be part of a Big Red Machine reunion in Cincinnati or the final series at Cinergy Field, which will be imploded this month.
Rose was remembered at the final Cinergy game by a rose left behind home plate. Former Reds pitcher Tom Browning spray-painted his No. 14 on the mound afterward.
Allowing Rose to take part in the opener at Great American Ball Park would soothe a lot of hard feelings.
"I think it would do a lot for the city," said Shirley Moran, 41, a computer database specialist whose office overlooks the new ballpark. "But his history's already been made. He broke Ty Cobb's record. They can't take that away from him."
Rose's popularity was evident when more than 40,000 fans bought $20 and $30 tickets to watch him and other Big Red Machine stars play in a softball game at Cinergy after the Reds' season ended.
The Reds' new ballpark overlaps their old one and will feature a Rose Garden on the site where historic hit No. 4,192 landed. Rose's supporters are hoping he'll be back in baseball's graces in time for opening day.
"If there's no announcement prior to opening day, then it boils down to whether the commissioner is going to go 0-for-2, having not allowed him to take part in the closing festivities at Cinergy and making the decision not to allow him to be on hand for the opening of Great American Ball Park," Brennaman said.
Even fans who are convinced that Rose bet on baseball think it's time to forgive.
"Oh sure, he did it," said Jerry Riegel, 50, as he left work at Cinergy Corp. downtown. "Well, I'll put it this way: He's guilty of something. But the way I look at it, 13 years is enough."