For once, a long-anticipated sports milestone has been preceeded, and appropriately announced, by a trumpet blast.
As is his style, Pete Rose used the dual showcase of national television and the countdown to his 3,000th hit to fire a three-homer salute to himself on Saturday.
Few players deserve celebration in their own time as much as Rose. Now only four hits shy of the 3,000-hit plateau. Perhaps none is so capable as Rose leading the cheering himself.
Rose is a rare flower in the 1970s, an authentic star who is at peace with his game, his public and himself.
Occasionally, a Willie Mays or a Brooks Robinson carries with them a gentle simplicity that brings them adoration from their earliest baseball years.
Sometimes, that sweetness of spirit is not violated by decades bear-trapped with trades, divorce or bankruptcy, or just the hurricane of plucking hands that whirl before the eyes of a star.
Rose has fought his way to a harder and more durable kind of simplicity, both on the field and off. He has focused himself, made himself simple by s stubborn and shrewed act to will.
"The secret is not trying to be something you're not," said Rose, picking one of the harder credos to stick by. Few baseball players have analyzed their skills, and more particularly their weaknesses, as rigorously as Rose.
Of the primary baseball skills, Rose is deficient in the majority. He can't run, throw, field or hit for power any better than hundreds of players who have passed unnoticed through the majors during his 16 seasons.
Yet Rose looked in the mirror long ago and realized that nature had created him with batting practice in mind.
"I can hit all day and never get tired," he marveled. "I've got these big old arms and thighs that don't wear out. And I'm stubborn, too. I've never seen the slump I couldn't hack any way out of in the cage."
Ty Cobb, the only man whose career hit total may be beyond Rose's reach, played like an uncaged beast. Rose is a beast who loves the cage.
Rose's theories of hitting are as simple as Ted Williams' were exotic. Rose hacks at any pitch he thinks he can hit on the nose in any direction."All you can do is hit the ball hard. You can't guide it.And you can't worry about it."
Rose will accept a base on balls, although grudgingly; his average of 68 walks a season with 636 at-bats is a rather low ratio for a leadoff man. However, Rose has long known that 200-hit seasons were his open sesame to the Hall of Fame.
Only in baseball could a man as fiercely individualistic and consumed with his own statistice be considered a team player. As a leadoff man, Rose has the simplest of batting jobs, get on base than score. He likes that manageable statement of purpose, one that does not interfere with his personal goals.
Rose hides his liabilities brilliantly. No man "cuts a base" better than Rose.He hits each sack like a swimmer making a tumble turn, coming out faster than he went in. Rose on the basepaths builds momentum like a dangerous, if slightly comical, red train.Every fielder knows he will arrive on schedule - high and hard, or headfirst.
Statisitic say that Rose at third base is a statue, reaching fewer balls per game than any hot-corner may in baseball. However, those practice sessions of 500 grounders have made him dependable on what he can reach. Even the Reds thank him for playing third base, since it allows another bat to play the outfield.
Many a star would not have agreed to switch to third base at age 34 after making All-Star teams at three Positions. However, Rose was willing, perhaps prompted by the bottles that were often thrown at him from the bleachers.
It will be difficult for future baseball generations to understand that from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, those bleachers are still packed with fans who think they know what Rose smells like, with or without Aqua Velva.
Many inform him of their opinion daily: "Rose, you stink."
Few players have had as warped an image outside their home city as Rose. Crude, overpaid, self-promoting, overrated, a record-grubber - those are the friendly things Rose has heard.
That is where Rose's deliberate simplicity comes back into play. He has narrowed his habitable world to those two places that he knows he can control, the ballpark and the town of Cincinnati.
In the clubhouse, Rose is the consummate needler, respecting nothing and no one. Since his rookie days, when veteran whites snubbed him, while Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson befriended him, Rose has had entree to baseball's black fellowship. When the microphones aren't on, he talks that talk and walks that walk. Groundskeepers, kids in the parking lot, cub reporters are his friends.
The bigwigs he lets stand in line. For 10 years, he has given the Red management nothing but a colossal headache. He has negotiated his contract in the newspapers, threatened to fine the club $25,000 a month if they didn't sign him, introduced 10 Red players to agent Jerry Kapstein. When Rose wants to talk - about anything - he talks. Management can take it or not. They have no choice. Rose couldn't care less.
Only one thing makes Rose unhappy: a warm day without a game. A day like yesterday.
"I hate off days, said the fellow who has played 674 games in a row, his countdown temporarily stalled at four. "I might get hit by a train."
There is no place for trains in Rose's life. He has ruled them out, along with much else, everything, infact, except the seasonal cycle of baseball pleasure that constantly renews him.
Pete Rose will not be hit by a train before he gets his 3,000th hit. Rose is the train, inexorable and always on his chosen track.