By the age of 10, my belief in Santa was waning. I still believed, but my 13 year older brother was, by then, a non-believer and pointing out the flaws in the existence of the man. Most notably, he pointed out that our chimney ended in a wood stove that was constantly in use.
"He can't come through the flames," he said. "And....he's too fat."
Skeptical though I was, I nonetheless sat on Santa’s lap at the annual Ebensburg Moose Christmas party and parlayed my request to ol’ Saint Nick.
"I’d like a Pete Rose baseball card,” I said.
In the mid-1980’s Pete Rose was everything to me. Despite living in Western Pennsylvania and carrying a healthy allegiance to my home town Pittsburgh Pirates, it was Pete who was on my Wheaties' box and the poster on my wall.
It was Pete I pretended to be when we played backyard baseball.
In the days before my parents had cable television, I don't recall any fanfare when Pete passed Ty Cobb to become baseball’s All-Time Hit’s Leader. I knew because I read it on a Wheaties' box. And it was on the Pete Rose poster I sent in box tops to acquire.
Pete Rose was more than the all-time hits leader when I was a kid growing up in the 80’s. He was the definition of the way you played the game. When you slid into home, you did a Pete Rose slide, which meant sacrificing your body to take out the catcher on the way into home plate.
His nickname was Charlie Hustle. If you watch clips of Pete playing baseball, he was not the graceful athlete that Derek Jeter was or Mike Trout is. He lumbered when he ran, and hunched and poked out hits at the plate, offering more of a chop than the beautiful swing of a Ken Griffey Jr. He was an average looking guy who hustled and worked his way to being a super star.
And so that’s what my Dad taught me to do.
When Pete was at the plate, he watched the ball into the catcher’s mitt on every pitch.
Dad said I should do that too.
So it should have come as no surprise that all I wanted for Christmas when I was 10 years old was a Pete Rose baseball card.
When asked if I wanted anything else, anything at all, I said no. There was honestly nothing I could think of more than to add Pete Rose to my healthy and growing baseball card collection. I had Ricky Henderson and Roger Clemens and some guy named Cal Ripken Jr.
I’m sure the request turned my parents sideways. Sports card shops had not yet blown up in our part of the country. In a few years you could walk into a store and pick out a Pete Rose rookie card or something else from his early years. But not in rural Western Pennsylvania in the mid 1980’s.
So my parents did what they could do.
On Christmas morning, I woke up and shuffled through the presents under the tree. There were several packs of baseball cards - Topps and Donruss - and I ripped through them all - finding Nolan Ryan and Andy Van Slyke and other stars that I admired.
But there was no Pete Rose.
My dad called a friend whose son collected baseball cards to see if he fulfill my wish, and was assured that there was a card to be had for me.
I eventually did get myself a Pete Rose baseball card to go with the thousands of other cards that sit at my parents' house.
Of course as you read this, you probably wonder why Pete Rose. These days he's almost kryptonite to the game of baseball, setting up his yearly protest in Cooperstown during the Hall of Fame inductions. And admittedly, he was the first hero to fall for me, when he was banned from baseball permanently for betting on his own team while managing the Reds.
As I re-read this post, it sounds kind of sad, but I don't remember it that way. I think very fondly about the year I wanted that one simple thing because of what it represented. Pete Rose symbolized the most important thing in my little 10 year old world.
As I've gotten older, and life has gotten more complicated, I take great pleasure in having memories of Christmases past that I can look at with such fondness, even if the memories are likely tinted with rose colored glasses.
How lucky I am to have memories so dear.
Wishing you and all of those in your life a very happy holiday.