Extraordinary men often bring a fresh simplicity to the complexity of their chosen field, carrying a sense of order and elemental sanity with them.
Amid the subtleties of baseball, Pete Rose is the man of fundamental qualities. Within his galaxy, Rose is the direction-setting lodestar.
Other players, even the best, measure their performance, their attitude, their purity of purpose by Rose's.
Inside the dugouts of the major leagues, Rose's 39-game hitting streak - the longest in the modern history of the National League - has been greeted with uniform surprise.
"It's amazing he never did it before," said Joe Torre, the New York Met manager.
If it is a wonder that the consistent Rose never before made an assault on Mount DiMaggio - the near-mythical 56-game streak of Joe DiMaggio - then it also is part blessing.
The Cincinnati switch-hitter is, at age 37, in full bloom, both as athlete and man.
In his youth, Rose seemed almost pathetically one-dimensional: baseball's bull-necked answer to all the tubulence of the '60s.
However, the coming of athletic old age has brought a mellow rounding to the public picture of Rose. To the '70s, Rose has come to resemble a hero with a joyful and unified sensibility, if a still fiercely focused one.
The cruel illusion about Rose is that he remains a great bumptious 200-pound adolescent who has simply been blessed with a 12-year-old's infinite energy.
"That damn Rose never gets tired," his opponents curse. "He doesn't know he's old."
A young Cincinnati teammate had the misfortune during the pennant race of 1977 to say how tired the month of September made him.
Genuinely mad, Rose snapped in reply: "I'm tired all the time."
That no one could guess that fact is another of Rose's ferocious acts of will.
"You have to drive yourself to accomplish anything," he said. "It's against my nature to lie in bed all day and do nothing."
Perhaps Rose's only counterpart in sports during his era has been basketball's John Havlicek. Howver, Havlicek - who also was the middle-American purist's epitome of his game - was a pure natural athlete.
Where Havlicek prospered with bionic selfcontrol and discipline, Rose - bereft of great talent - has thrived on humor and enthusiasm.
"I don't fear age," Rose said. "I only worry about losing my enthusiasm. It would kill me to play on a losing team. It would be impossible at my age, almost insane, to play the way I do in last place."
Rose asks only one precondition for his approach to baseball - a pennant race.
"It doesn't take me too much to get up for a ball game," Rose said. "When they finish the national anthem, I still get chills . . . I've even learned the words."
That's the Good Ol' Pete that Rose cultivates. His mates see another Rose: quick-witted, enormously savvy in appraising people, tough but kind, proud yet considerate.
Rose has a rock-hard sense of himself, his limits, his tastes, his allegiances, his goals.
"Pete doesn't run around with celebrities," said his manager, Sparky Anderson. "He'll say, 'Hello,' but they're not the people he values. He can't stand phonies."
"You know Sinatra and all those people in Los Angeles? Well, the guy Pete looks forward to seeing when we get to Dodger Stadium is this funny old groundskeeper named Green Fly.
"Pete just won't let himself be annoyed by anything . . . except going hitless."
Rose is as radiant these days as a man who has not been annoyed since July 14 and does not plan to be again until Aug. 14 - the day he could hit safely in his 57th game.
For the past week Rose has been giving the nation's sporting media a crash course in batting. Each day he unveils new subtleties, like a professor keeping his students hooked.
Rose likes to pretend he is the same person as the 22-year-old rookie who broke in battling his own teammates, worshipping his mucho-macho father ("My pap, he'd a whupped me for that), and earning the scorn of veterans for sprinting out his bases on balls.
The mature Rose, however, is a hip fashion plate with tassled Gucci loafers, open-neck silk shirts, skin-tight rock-star slacks, gold medalions and long, styled hair (some of it gray).
What fascinates Rose's teammates is his capacity for blending Rolls-Royce taste with an undeniable down-to-earth manner. Rose may be the only baseball star who works at not having charisma.
Dirty jobs - collecting balls, fielding for the fungo hitter - appeal to Rose. Throwing a headlock on any stranger who begs him to stand still for a snapshot is a specialty.
All Rose's teammates like him because he won't allow them not to. Every rookie gets the Rose treatment: saturation empathy. No favor too much.
"The veterans treated me very bad when I broke in," Rose has said, not naming names, "and I vowed I'd never act that way."
Among his equals - the established players - Rose is the king of bench jockeys. "Nobody gets the better of him," Anderson said. "He's the fastest comeback in the league."
There were times when Rose's teasing sometimes got too blunt, but with the years he become better at not hurting feelings.
Among rival players, he is a near saint, with disciples on every team. Before his games in New York this week, a steady stream of Mets sneaked up to the Cincinnati batting cage, with team photographer in tow, to be photographed with this man striking toward the Hall of Fame.
"When Ty Cobb was a kid, he was like me . . . always the smallest, liked to fight," Rose said.
But as Rose has gotten older, the cruel edge of his drive - the indifference at dealing out injury - has been ground down a bit. The hard slide remains; the spikes are lower.
When Rose set the modern National League hitting streak record Tuesday, passing Tommy Holmes, the Reds would not throw Rose his glove so he could play third base for the next inning.
"Johnny (Bench) wouldn't let go of my glove," Rose grinned. "They made me come to the dugout to get it so they could all shake my hand . . . I really liked that."
Rose liked it because he knew - baseball being a game of the strictest ritual - that the gesture was genuine.
For Rose, spokesman and goodwill ambassador of his game, these days have been tainted only by his two-month-old separation from his wife Karolyn, mother of his children Fawn Renc, 13, and Peter II, 9.
"It's my fault," Rose said. However, long-time friends of the Roses say the problems are more complicated than Rose's tendency to be a gregarious social animal off the field.
"He's one of those athletes, like politicians, who married his high school sweetheart when he was just a kid," one 15-year friend of the Roses said. "The husband travels all over the world and grows up, becomes a famous man, becomes more mature and complicated. And maybe the wife stays home and stays the same."
Both the Roses say they want a reconciliation after the season ends.
The real love affair this summer, however, is between Rose and a baseball fandom that sees him as an antedote to all the ugly implications of the free-agent era.
"It used to be that only elderly ladies liked me," Rose said, chuckling, "because they were the only ones who could remember back far enough to when people played the game the way I do."
TNow, in his vintage year of 3,000 hits and sniffing at the most inaccessible of all baseball records, this good Red wine has become a taste for all pallets.
"Yeah, I'm having a great time," Rose said.
"But, ya know, I've got a feeling the day after I go 0 for 4, then I'll really get hot."