Earl Francis just couldn’t seem to find the strike zone against the 21 year old pint sized second baseman for the Reds.
Maybe it was nerves. After all, this was the 1963 opener in Cincinnati. The lead-off batter Leo Cardenas flew out to left and now this kid, who only had made the roster due to an injury to veteran Don Blasingame, was patiently waiting for his pitch.
Maybe it was the fact that this kid was crouching so low at the plate, he seemed to make his 5’11” frame two feet smaller.
Whatever the case, the count was three balls and no strikes. The Red’s number two hitter had yet to swing the bat as he dug into the batter’s box, settling in, his eyes peering at the right arm of the Pirates pitcher.
Francis received the sign from his catcher and delivered the pitch.
Take your base.
Peter Edward Rose dropped his bat and sprinted to first base.
Of the 28,896 fans in attendance that day, no one could have imagined that the player that just drew a four pitch walk in his first plate appearance would become one of the most storied players in baseball history.
Two batters later Rose was standing at home plate, congratulating Frank Robinson after the slugger drove him home with a two-run homer.
It would take Rose another week, April 13th to be exact, to collect the first of his 4,256 hits. He was 0 for his first 11 when he stepped to the dish to lead off the bottom of the 8th inning. The Reds were down 7-1 to Bob Friend and the Pirates. Rose had grounded out to shortstop, was hit by a pitch, and walked. 4,481 people came out to Crosley Field that day and most likely, only a few thousand were left to witness Rose collect his first hit.
A 3 for 23 start for Rose left Reds manger Fred Hutchinson no choice but to bench Rose for a little over one week. When Rose returned to the lineup, he was there to stay. By July, the Reds had sold Don Blasingame to the Senators and Rose took advantage of the playing time. He collected 170 hits in 623 at bats, scoring 101 runs and batted .273 winning the 1963 Rookie of the Year award for the National League.
And the rest is “hits”tory.
(Coming next week is Episode 2 of the Pastime Reds Podcast where we’ll dive deeper into the debut of Pete Rose, look at 10 years of Great American Ball Park, and 40 years of Marty Brennaman.)