Pete Rose Was My First Hero

I can’t speak to Pete Rose fairly. I suppose I will ask that anyone who feels like they can refrain from doing so here. I know what you’ll say. I don’t need to hear it.

You see, Rose was my first and all-time greatest sports hero. To say I worshiped the guy doesn’t come close. I wanted to be Pete Rose.

My Dad grew up in Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, and my grandparents still lived there when I was a kid. So we actually got to see a fair number of Big Red Machine games. We’d park my grandparent’s car (the 65 mustang that would later be mine) on the Covington side and walk across the bridge to Riverfront Stadium…I in my hat and glove…dreaming my own dreams of Major League greatness.

I worshiped all the members of the Big Red Machine. And I still marvel how I got to see them play so many times. But Pete was at the top of all my worship.

PeteRoseShirtI had a Pete Rose poster on my wall. Had every trading card of his, since his rookie season, in a decorative display. The carpet in my ROOM was red…as were my bookshelves…bright, bold Cincinnati red.

My grandmother waited for hours outside of a grocery store to get his autograph on this tshirt. I wore this tshirt one time.

For as long as I’ve been alive since and in every house I’ve ever lived, I’ve known exactly where that tshirt is. (In a bottom drawer, tenderly folded and stored…)

All this is to say, unlike the many who always hated Rose or who only ever grudgingly admired him, I cannot speak about Pete Rose fairly. Don’t expect me to slam him. And I’m well past defending him.

What there is. for me, is a great, cavernous, and unhealable sadness. Because not only was he my first great hero, he self-evidently also became my introduction to the idea of the fallen hero. He was the one who gave me the innocence of baseball fantasy; and he was the one who took it away.

Unlike many who will read this, I love Pete Rose and some part of me always will.

I even love the part of him that’s an unrepentant liar and cheat. The part that’s so clearly addicted to gambling, fame, and the spotlight. The part that had to know he’s been lying all these years, and yet was so deep inside his deception he couldn’t let it out. (And still can’t).

136694Having Pete Rose as my first great hero introduced me, early on, to the idea that our heroes have clay feet. All of them.

For all of Pete’s addictions and flaws (and there are many) his scandal also taught me about our greatest societal addition too: the love of the scapegoat.

We love to set up our heroes. We love to knock them down. And then, we love to sit back and watch what will happen next.

Will they be redeemed?
Will they reform and be invited back into community?
Or will they continue their sin, so that we might continue to feel superior to them?

This is our “bread and circuses.” Of all the sports we love, this is the sport we love the most. And we all do it. ALL. THE. TIME.

And at my age, I’ve come to realize that we no longer really cares which choice —redemption or shame- the fallen hero makes. Either way, it provides us the entertainment we crave.

The only mistake we make in all this, of course, is the idea that the ultimate choice is belongs to us (to reject or re-welcome) or to the hero (to sin or repent).

The ultimate choice is always God’s, of course. And God tipped God’s hand long ago.

God has a soft spot for assholes.

When this truth fully permeates our being, we understand why it gets called “The Gospel.”
(I digress…)

As I said, either way…whatever choice the hero makes…it’s entertaining along the way. And entertainment and distraction, I’ve come to realize, is more often than not what we’re really after in a hero anyway. Their escapades distract us from our own sins and shortcomings, either choice they make.

So, we soak up our “bread and circuses” from our Arm Chairs, permanently exempted (spectators that we are) from examining our own lives too deeply.

Some might think that all of this moralizing is a veiled attempt to defend Pete Rose.

It is not.

I am well past that with him.

I understand that Pete has likely blown decades of in-process redemption, one final time. And, no, I don’t need to be reminded as to why. Really, I don’t.

Instead, I write all this to say what I said at the beginning. Pete Rose is the one who has taught me the most about heroes, and fallen heroes, and the leering fascination we have with both.

In the end, all I can finally say is what I’ve said for several decades; and, apparently, what I will now say for the rest of my life…

“Say it ain’t so, Pete.”

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

One thought on “Pete Rose Was My First Hero

  1. This is a superb subject analysis. Funny thing, during 4th grade in 1971, the Big Red Machine was in full gear. As my last name is Rose, I bragged throughout 4th grade that Pete Rose was my uncle.

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