The Bridgeport Bluefish played under a watchful eye Monday night, though the crowd — swollen four times its normal size — and the media — from the networks and local stations — had their lenses trained just to the right of first base, where the “Hit King” Pete Rose was managing.
It was his first time on a field as a manager since 1989. He was banned from Major League Baseball after gambling on the Reds.
“When I’m here, I try to do a good job because people always remember first the last thing they heard about you, and you heard some bad things about me,” said Rose at a pregame news conference. He didn’t need MLB permission to coach or manage for the Bluefish because it is an independent team. Rose said he did get a blessing from MLB.
Self-proclaimed Rose and Reds superfan Suzanne Connell of Bloomfield didn’t want to miss a shot at seeing Rose.
“Last Sunday, I saw it in the paper,” Connell said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to go to that game.’ ”
Fans clamored for the chance at an autograph from the baseball great. Some like Howie Burros brought along decades-old mementos.
“Pete Rose restaurant, Glades Road, Boca, Florida, and a list of all his achievements,” said Burros, who was holding a matchbook.
Those achievements, which include the record for most hits in baseball history, still haven’t gotten Rose into the Baseball Hall of Fame. That’s just one side effect of his MLB ban, with which Rose supporters disagree.
“If you look at everything he did for the game, as a player, it definitely outweighs all the other stuff,” said John Valus, a regular Bluefish game attendee and Rose fan.
Rose denied this appearance was motivated by his desire to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I’m the one that screwed up, so I’m not sitting here, whining about not being reinstated,” he told a throng of reporters.
Whatever his reason for gracing the Ballpark at Harbor Yard, this team’s regulars were thankful to see him in Connecticut.
“It’s going to be a great thing for Bridgeport and for the Bluefish,” Burros said.
More than 4,500 fans turned out for Rose’s game. Bluefish staff members say regular Monday night attendance is around 1,000.