The sixth annual First Pitch Classic ceremony marking the start of the Mercer Bears baseball season will be hosted this year on Tuesday, Feb. 4, featuring keynote speaker Pete Rose, a former 24 year-career MLB star.
Unlike previous speakers from the Atlanta Braves such as Chipper Jones, Dale Murphy, Jeff Francoeur and John Smoltz that were featured at First Pitch Classic before, Rose will be bringing a new perspective to the Mercer Bears baseball team from his time with the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies. Mercer Baseball head coach Craig Gibson said, “We thought we would go outside and try to bring in a non-Brave.” He continued and said, “His name came up, and I don’t think we could have gone with another ‘outsider’ any better than who we got.”
According to the website of Mercer University Athletics, tickets for the autograph session by Pete Rose and the dinner are sold as separate events. Tickets for the autograph session are $75 per person but are limited to the first 150 participants. Tickets for the dinner are $100 per person. All of these proceeds benefit Mercer baseball.
Pete Rose started his career in Macon, playing with the Macon Peaches in 1962, who were affiliated with the Southern League from 1964-1967. The Macon Peaches were an important affiliate team for the Cincinnati Reds from 1962–1964. In 1963, Rose moved to Cincinnati Reds. While with the Reds, he earned the nickname “Charlie Hustle” and quickly proved himself as a player. Later that year he earned the National League’s Rookie of the Year.
Retiring as a player in 1986, Rose still holds 14 major league records, including career hits (4,256), singles (3,215), at-bats (14,053) and games played (3,562). Throughout his 24 year-career, he won three National League Batting Titles (1968, 1969 and 1973), appeared in the World Series three times (1975, 1976 and 1980), won two Gold Glove awards (1969 and 1970), was awarded the NL MVP (1973) and named the World Series MVP (1975).
Apart from playing with the Cincinnati Reds, he was also manager from 1985-1988. In 1989, discrepancies and allegations came flying his way on charges of betting on baseball games. He denied these charges until 2004, when he wrote his book, “My Prison Without Bars.”
He agreed to a lifetime banishment from baseball in 1989 and was dismissed from eligibility from the Hall of Fame. His dismissal for consideration for the Hall of Fame award is a highly controversial topic that is “revisited every year,” according to the online edition of the Athens-Banner Herald.
Macon’s own Bobby Pope, the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, said, “Rose admittedly has made some mistakes along the way, with a major indiscretion keeping him out of a place he belongs, and that is the Baseball Hall of Fame,” according to The Telegraph.
Regardless of Rose’s past, his legendary mark on baseball is evident through the number of records he continues to hold and his enthusiasm which first granted him the 1963 Rookie of the Year. His return to Macon does not go unappreciated according to Gibson who said, “Obviously Pete’s baseball resumes speaks for itself and his accomplishments on the playing field are unparalleled.”