Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Pete Rose Avatar Story

…and the story behind the story…

Yesterday, I changed my avatar on Twitter. Not usually a big deal, but I did so in order to promote a bizarre “inside joke” via a bizarre, obtuse baseball reference that I was sure nobody would get. That’s more because my brain works in bizarre ways, and my sense of humor is the kind that finds me sliding in hidden references to unrelated events when current events inspire me.

Going back a couple of weeks, here’s the story and how it started:

On August 20, Duane X Harris (follow him on Twitter: @duanexharris) posted, among other things, this amazing photo of Pete Rose wearing a San Diego Padres “mustard” cap (Willie in Puerto Rico. The Spaceman in Alaska. Billy Dies. Charlie Hustle in SD. PCL Stars in Boston), as well as the story about the cap, on his fantastic and must read blog ninety feet of perfection, with the photo he outlined the circumstances around the photo itself, where Rose apparently had to wear this cap as part of a sizing exercise for a portrait:
"While this is weird, Rose almost DID play for the Padres while they were still a PCL team in 1962. This is due to the fact that the Padres were an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds from 1962 to 1965. Rose was actually featured in the official program for the 1962 season while wearing a Padres cap. I assume he was expected to play for the team that year? I scanned a photo of it (HERE) from Bill Swank’s incredible book “Baseball In San Diego – From The Padres To Petco” which is the 2nd volume he wrote that chronicles the history of the game in the city of San Diego."

This photo popping up in my browser was all I needed for a great chuckle at the time, so I mercilessly saved it and bookmarked the post, not knowing if I would ever need to refer back to it for any reason.

There is a “story behind the story,” as I mentioned above, regarding Pete Rose and the Padres, this isn’t it yet…don’t worry, I’m getting there!

Fast forward to early yesterday afternoon, 8/31/11, when in the midst of my End of the Month calamities at work, I find out on my Twitter feed that Jeremy Hermida was dealt by the Reds to the Padres for cash considerations. Readers of my blog know that I’ve followed Hermida for quite some time now, during his stay in Louisville with the Bats (AAA affiliate of the Reds), and how much I like his baseball stuff.

Since I like the Padres more than the Reds (much more, they are more or less my “team #3” that I follow) and also since Hermida is pretty much ‘stuck in a rut’ with the Reds organization (he’s an outfielder, the Reds outfield is a little too deep for him right now), I consider this a great move. Hermida is an outstanding ballplayer, and I’m sure he will do great with the Padres.

I am a little shocked that many Padres fans, blogs, etc. just aren’t embracing the move at all…many feel like the Padres need a “veteran outfielder” in the lineup, in the case where “veteran outfielder” translates to “an old guy who has been on an average of 1.23 teams per season in the past 8 years of his career.” I don’t get it…this season is pretty much in the books, and a “veteran outfielder” isn’t going to get the Padres to the postseason, so why not pick up a guy who has solid skills, a bona-fide presence at the plate, a great arm, and enough drive to make his mark with a great growing organization like the Padres? I don’t want to single folks out, but a) you may think he’s just a AAAA player, but I’m sure he will prove you wrong, and b) don’t take his numbers in NL Central parks (of which he hasn’t seen much anyway, too small of a sample size) as a death-knell for clumsiness and sterility in Petco. Padres fans need to lighten up and look at the bright side of this transaction, their sense of humor (and lack thereof) smells like “fan makeup issues” to me.

So in a moment of quasi-anachronism I thought about a Red going to the Padres, thought about the Pete Rose in a Padres cap photo, and suddenly, before I realized what I was doing, I changed my avatar from beloved Moe Thacker to the Pete Rose mustard cap photo. So there is my obtuse reference: a Red and the Padres. Yup, that’s it…that’s the big inside joke.

In unrelated news, the LobShots blog posted the same picture, kindly giving Duane Harris and his blog credit, only a few moments later…so I say again, this all happens for a reason!

Reaction to the avatar has been amusing…I’ve heard a little bit of everything from gambling references to just plain shock at the grisly nature of the photo. It won’t be there forever, but for now I still get a chuckle when I open my timeline and see Mustard Cap Pete looking sheepishly back at me.

As alluded to earlier, there is a story behind the story, in two parts. Part one is all Pete Rose, part two is all Padres.

Pete Rose - so, here’s an opportunity to say whatever I want to about Charlie Hustle, yet I won’t say much or take time to editorialize. The debate is still strong; I have my very, very strong opinions about Mr. Rose but they are mine, and I don’t want to discuss them. All I feel like saying about Pete Rose is that he is one of the best baseball players of all time, that shouldn’t stir up any debate.

My Pete Rose story happened about 11 years ago, when my wife and I went to Damon’s here in Louisville as we had a coupon that could be used there. We weren’t then, and still aren’t, great fans of spending buckets of cash and eating out a lot. If a restaurant has a coupon, we’ll try to use it once every couple of months. My oldest daughter was about 3, and my youngest was just a peanut, we trotted to Damon’s on a random evening to discover a big surprise…

Paul Horning is a local hero, he’s from the area and appears in commercials now and then. There’s also a statue of him at Louisville Slugger Field. Back then, Paul had a monthly cable sports program, and it was filmed at Damon’s for some reason…when we walked into the door, I saw the blackboard message that Paul Hornung was taping tonight and I burst with excitement. As a kid, I thought Paul Hornung was some sort of Scandinavian God of Sports, I idolized him completely. Paul is here, I thought…WOW.

Then my eyes got stuck on the rest of the blackboard message: “Paul’s guest tonight: PETE ROSE.” Holy Moley. Paul Hornung and Pete Rose, in the same place at the same time. Mountains, ye MOVE at thy command!!!

We were seated quickly (showing up at restaurants way before dinner rush is a habit of ours), and that’s when my “WOW” turned to “WOWIE ZOWIE”…if you’ve ever been to a Damon’s establishment, you know that there’s a back row on a platform with booths, then a floor level with booths adjacent to the back row build-out and stationary tables in the ‘arena,’ which are situated before their famous 20-or-so giant TV screens on the opposite wall. We were seated in a booth on the back row against the wall that divided the floor level section. There, in the booth right next to ours, on the floor level, was Paul Hornung, Pete Rose, Mrs. Pete Rose, and Pete’s son eating their dinner!!

My Wife: “Who is that?”
Me: “That’s PETE ROSE, one of the greatest baseball players of all time.”
My Wife: “Should you get his autograph?”
Me: “Oh my goodness…NO.”

There were about 15-20 Reds fans already in the establishment, as Pete was going to sign autographs after he ate and before the show taped. I did think about getting Hornung and Rose to sign a napkin or something, but I was not driven to this…I just didn’t want to interfere. I sipped on my soda, watched my kids squirm around, and sat in amazement as Paul and Pete gobbled up ribs and shot the breeze nonchalantly. Yes, I did wave and say “hi.” The autograph session started, folks lined up, and I just watched them file past. Years later, I think I was just too intimidated by this gathering of greatness to even push across a handshake. We paid and left before the taping began.

The San Diego Padres - this story is a little more complicated and a little more personal. Those who know me know that my baseball journey began with the Royals in the 70s, drifted for just a year or two with the Yankees, and then I focused on things other than baseball. I was ‘away’ from baseball for many years, although I casually and fondly observed some baseball moments from a distance…the Cubs in 84, the Braves in 91, the strike, moments such as those.

My return to baseball started with my obsession with Japanese culture and my growing admiration for Japanese baseball, which snowballed into fandom again in the early part of the 2000 decade and my adoption of the Hanshin Tigers as my favorite NPB team (and they still are, to this day). I returned to gaijin baseball with a few Louisville Bats games during that period, but had not returned to a Major League ballpark until 2006, when on a business trip to San Diego my boss and I went to see the Padres take on the visiting Astros at Petco on August 1st. The Padres lost in a pitchers’ duel (Jake Peavy vs. Brad Lidge) but I remember fawning over Mike Piazza and Peavy both, and the experience was so wholesome and so powerful, I was immediately gripped and therefore, made my way back to the greatest game. That’s why the Padres and Petco park will always have a special part of my baseball consciousness.

So…congratulations to Jeremy Hermida, who seems to be headed for a better place, and if you don’t like the avatar (or Pete Rose for that matter), just hang on a bit and things will eventually change. Whether you like it or not.

And hey...John Baker (@manbearwolf) likes the avatar, too...#beastmode

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