When I read the e-mail inviting me to attend a lunch here in LA with Pete Rose and his fiancee, Kiana Kim to talk about their new docu-series, Pete Rose: Hits & Mrs., my initial reaction was: no. Then I thought, well, maybe? Pete Rose, baseball great. Now banned from baseball for gambling. To understand my visceral reaction, it might help if I give you some background: My parents are sports fans and baseball played a big part in my childhood. I started collecting baseball cards, purchased with my father at the neighborhood corner store, when I was in nursery school. We went to minor and major league games. Winter vacations to Florida always had to occur during Spring Training. I was a baby when my father caught a ball at Candlestick Park—I was there—so they tell me. Baseball figured prominently and still does with my husband and kids. I guess I felt Pete Rose had let me (and a lot of the country) down.
I have an image of Pete Rose in my head, it’s from one of his baseball cards from my childhood. Pete permanently frozen in an awkward looking bunt position. Fast forward a decade to the summer of 1989 and the announcement that Pete was declared “permanently ineligible from baseball” for betting on games. This means that Pete cannot work for Major League Baseball or anything associated with it. It also means being barred from induction to The Baseball Hall of Fame. You can look up Pete Rose and see his accomplishments and statistics. You can also look up The Dowd Report which documented Pete Rose’s “transgressions” against baseball. In the twenty plus years since Pete’s ineligibility, the country and the sport of baseball have been through a lot. Attitudes change and new controversies have hit the sport. Foremost of those is steroid use. Maybe you look at the cheating that comes from a player who uses performance enhancing drugs. Then maybe you look at Pete’s contention that he only bet on his own team winning while he was manager of the Reds and therefore never tried to lose a game. Pete had a gambling addiction. He was an addict. Addicts can overcome their addiction with help and determination. It gets harder to separate the wrong from the cheating from the damaging America’s game. I am not, thankfully, required to decide whether Pete should be reinstated. I can tell you that Pete wants to be reinstated.
I got a sneak preview of the first two episodes of the six-episode series, The Family Hustle and There’s No Crying in Baseball (click links to watch the full episodes online) which show Pete and his fiancee Kiana Kim raising Kiana’s two kids, planning to get married and Pete being all about baseball. He states clearly that he knows what he did was wrong and that he wants to get into the Hall of Fame. Kiana is pleasantly interesting to watch. In the episodes you see that she owns her own home, is focused on her kids and is smart. It is a reality show and Pete and Kiana’s reasons for doing it are probably numerous. I think one reason is that Pete wants to be heard.
Like any normal person, I crowd sourced the decision to meet Pete and Kiana. I took to Facebook with: “I'm debating whether to go meet with Pete Rose tomorrow.” The overwhelming response was: “go!” So, I went. It was a small gathering at Sisley in Sherman Oaks. Mostly sportswriters and reporters. We all gathered around a table in one of the private dining rooms. Pete and Kiana along with Kiana’s daughter Cassie sat in the middle of the long table. Italian food served family style. Pete talking away, answering questions while eating a salad. It was really cool. Yes, Pete wants into the hall of fame. He and Kiana tell us an upcoming episode shows them in Cooperstown (location of the Baseball Hall of Fame) with Pete staying outside while Kiana goes in. You can see Pete loves baseball. He has “Hit King” embroidered on his collar. He watches three games a day during the season. Regarding criticism of the show launching so close to the Hall of Fame balloting (which had taken place the day before and resulted in no one being selected), Pete said there is no good time of year. It’s either Spring Training or the regular season or the playoffs or the World Series or…So, mid-January seems fair. Pete told us he gets texts from players asking for hitting advice. He makes a point of watching their games and following up with them. I kind of pictured players passing Pete’s cell phone number around the locker room upon hearing a teammate say, “I gotta work on my swing!” As a mom who also works in Hollywood, I asked Pete and Kiana if they had concerns about putting Ashton, 11 and Cassie, 14 into the spotlight of a reality show at such typically “complicated” ages. This gave me a really touching insight into Pete and his relationship with the kids. He said that they talked about it and will continue to talk about it. That, “high school kids might make fun of you” and they will deal with it as a family. Kiana said that Cassie was homeschooled and chose to go to public high school. That Cassie is also interested in acting. Fair enough I thought. Pete took a picture with me and gladly signed two baseballs. One for me and one that I am donating to a silent auction to benefit public education. He signed them “Pete Rose #4256” representing his major league leading career hits. I love my Pete Rose signed baseball.
Pete was born the same year my father was. Kiana is closer to my age. They say wisdom comes with age. With life experience comes perspective and maybe Pete has benefitted from it. He genuinely cares about Kiana’s kids and seems to actively participate in their lives. You may come to the show because you want to see Pete or Kiana, but maybe we can all come away with some understanding and appreciation for a family who invited us into their lives. As for my decision to go to the lunch? I’m really glad I went to meet Pete Rose.
Pete Rose: Hits & Mrs. airs Monday nights at 10pm.