He is not actually Pete Rose Jr.; he is more correctly Pete Rose II, but he has become known as a junior, anyway, perhaps inevitably. "What are you going to do?" his mother said.
What are you going to do if your father is a given Hall-of-Famer who played the game with an unsurpassed relish that pleased all who watched him? If you were to the clubhouse born, accepted as a mere child into one of the most exclusive circles in the world? If there was no other skill in your blood or ambition in your heart?
"Before I could walk, I could hold a bat in a stance," he said. "When I was 5, I could hit it over the house."
At 19, Rose has become the third baseman for the Frederick Keys of the Carolina League, the Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. Although this is his formal debut as a professional player, the public has forever viewed him as a miniature replica of his father. He was the boy in team colors, whether Philadephia's or Cincinnati's, sitting between the men in the dugout, his jaw working gum as they worked their tobacco.
In some ways, he belongs in baseball completely, handling his glove and publicity with self-assurance. In other ways, he is less certain, away from home for the first time and starting out five for 32 (.156) at the plate with 11 strikeouts for Frederick as he struggles against more schooled pitching.
For the most part, he is no different from the other young, devoted hopefuls on the roster; he nearly swooned at the first sight of his own professional locker. "It grows in you," he said. "If your dad's a cop, you want to be a cop. Mine was in baseball." And it may be as simple as that.
Under any circumstances, this would be a difficult season for the younger Rose. As long as he has played, pitchers have been applauded for striking him out. In one recent road game, he was mocked from the bleachers. But there is no way to measure how devastatingly complicated the issue of his parentage has become this spring since then baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth announced that Rose, manager of the Cincinnati Reds, was being investigated for "serious allegations" reportedly involving gambling. The results of that investigation have not been released.
Pete Rose II declines to discuss his father's problems, except to say, "I can't explain how I feel. I haven't talked about it yet, and I'm not going to start. All I can say is, it's a bunch of crap."
Karolyn and Pete Rose divorced in 1979, but the ex-Mrs. Rose and her son present a unified, supportive front. This varies somewhat from a story in the April issue of Gentleman's Quarterly, called "War of the Roses," in which she presented an ugly portrait of Rose as a husband and father. But Karolyn Rose does not consider this the time to air family complexities, either. "I was married to him for 16 years," she said. "So I'm concerned and, of course, his chilren are concerned. We know everything is going to turn out all right."
Karolyn Rose can only attempt to ease her son's awkward transition to minor-leaguer and public figure. Before the Keys' season started, she drove his car to Frederick, rented an apartment for him, got the cable installed and filled the refrigerator. He acknowledges he may be closer to her than to his father, and he resembles her, too, with his reddish hair and dusting of freckles.
"I'm a Mama's boy," he said. She had to return to work at a Cincinnati restaurant last weekend, loath to leave him alone for thefirst time.
"He can be his own person," she said. "He wants to be. Whether people will let him. . . . "
The elder Rose declined to be interviewed, but he has shown previously that he is keenly interested in his son--they spent a 10-day vacation together before spring training--and that he will watch raptly his attempt at a career in baseball. His advice when young Pete joined the Keys was a curt "See the ball. Hit it where it's pitched." But he also reportedly commented at the time, "I'll live and die with every at-bat he takes in the minors. It's my blood."
Pete Rose II had a bat and glove even as an infant, and began playing organized Tee-ball when he was 5. When he was 9, he spent $20 on an old uniform shirt and pair of spikes belonging to Joe Morgan. He wore them everywhere, even though the shirt hung to his calves and the huge spikes made a clumping noise.
To differentiate between the father and the son, the elder Peter Edward Rose was always referred to as "Big Pete" and the younger as "Little Pete" or "Petey." But the name that stuck more than any other within the family was "Googie," which Pete Rose and Pat Corrales gave him when he was 4. It was later shortened to a more mature "Goog," which is what his mother would yell from her permanent seat behind home plate. She never missed a game, even when it meant skipping the early innings of the Reds' game.
There were few backyard sessions with his father, either because the younger Pete was playing organized ball, or because the elder Rose's schedule didn't allow it. "He never pushed it on me," the younger Rose said. But he received tutoring at the stadium, where other major-leaguers would pitch to him. He was a permanent fixture in the clubhouses, and called it, "The best time in my whole life. Sitting on the bench, talking to the players, acting like I was a player."
Pete Rose II watched the 1980 World Series at his father's side in the Philadelphia dugout. He was in the dugout again at Riverfront Stadium on the night of Sept. 11, 1985, when his father got his 4,192nd hit to surpass Ty Cobb's all-time record. Almost as memorable as the hit was the moment when the 15 year old, dressed in an identical uniform, hurtled onto the field to meet his father amid flashing cameras.
"You can't explain it," Pete Rose II said. "If I tried, you'd say what the hell is he talking about. It's that good a feeling."
There are some recent instances of major-leaguers' sons becoming successful players. Bobby Bonds' son, Barry, of Pittsburgh, and Ken Griffey Jr. of Seattle are two of the more notable ones. For Pete Rose II, there was never any question he would follow his father. "I never thought about anything but baseball," Rose said. "I never considered what else I would do."
When Rose was drafted in the 12th round by the Orioles, his brief flirtation with attending Cerritos Community College in California ended and he signed. Even his mother, who at first did not like baseball and might have had good reason to object, instead has become as ambitious for her son as he is. "It just gets in the blood and stays," she said. "I don't think I could see him doing anything but baseball. God willing."
Perhaps wisely, he does not pattern himself after his father as a player in anything but hustle. He could have chosen No. 14 as his number when he joined the Keys, but did not see the sense in that and instead took 21. He bats left-handed only, and while he has a similar crouch at the plate, it is not as pronounced. He is more upright, the bat held high and his feet close together.
"Sure, people expect a lot," he said. "Anybody who thinks I'm going to get 4,256 hits is crazy. But if I had a dad who only played a couple of years, then they'd say, 'Pete who?' "
It is said that, like his father, he lacks arm strength and footspeed. His stance at the plate reflectsa possibility of power, but he has not yet adjusted to the difference in pitching between high school and the minors. He may be bothered in part by hesitancy.
According to Doug Melvin, the Orioles' director of player development, Rose was drafted on the basis of good soft hands and adeptness with the bat. There seems to be little doubt in the minds of Oioles scouts that he has the potential to become a consistent hitter. The 259th player picked, he might have gone higher except for some confusion as to whether he was going to college.
"We feel he's a mature kid who can handle the ups and downs," Melvin said. "So while we thought he might struggle early, we also think he's got the emotional makeup."
Rose earned his way to Frederick off a strong defensive performance for the Orioles' winter-league team in Palm Beach. Keys Manager Jerry Narron knew he would falter at first against the pitching, so is not worried. "Nobody expects him to hit .300," Narron said. However, Narron observed that he is more accomplished with a bat overall than others his age; he is, for instance, an excellent bunter. "He knows how to use it."
Melvin acknowledged there was added temptation to draft Rose because of his name. There is always the chance that genes and bloodlines count for something, and his environment growing up clearly gives him some extra baseball knowledge. "Anybody who says it doesn't make a difference is fooling themselves," he said. "He grew up at the park. His knowledge and instincts are so much further ahead of some others. Yes, his surroundings all his life had an effect on our thinking. But you also have to be able to play."
Rose is not unaware of the effect of his parentage, and what made him attractive to scouts is not necessarily attractive to his peers on the field. So he works to dispel any notion that he was a courtesy pick or somehow is a special case by being the first one to run anywhere, whether to shag balls in batting practice or gather scattered equipment.
"He's very popular, which I find intriguing," Melvin said. Rose learned this in the instructional league, where there was initial skepticism about his status, and suspicion that he might be a prima donna. "Maybe they thought he was a spoiled brat," his mother said. "I told him, 'You can understand that can't you? Your dad is Pete Rose, the best thing going.' It's in everything, it isn't just baseball."
But maintaining poise under the current circumstances must be difficult for an othrwise straightforward 19 year old. He has a frank, unpracticed way of talking, and the sort of gawky, disheveled looks that haven't begun to move out of boyhood. He likes Nintendo. He thinks the hockey movie "Slap Shot" is a modern classic. He wants a Labrador retriever.
"I like dogs. I like malls. I like arcades. I like fast food," he said. "I'm a kid still. I love toy stores. I like to go in toy stores and throw balls around or ride skateboards until somebody kicks me out. I like games. I wish I was a little kid still."
Which is why he is playing the ultimate, original game. Even if, for the moment, it may demand more adult behavior than he would like. "People say follow your heart," he said. "I'll follow mine, right between the white lines."