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Three hours with Pete Rose in a Las Vegas booth: Baseball's Hit King brings his act to The Strip

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - Pete Rose peers out from his booth on Las Vegas Boulevard, his famous brow furrowing in pure Charlie Hustle intensity.

"Chuckles," Rose calls out. "Don't say that. Don't ever say there's no line."

The man hired to scream out and stop tourists streaming down The Strip with shouts of "Pete Rose! Meet the great Pete Rose!" turns around. This guy is the modern-day equivalent of a medieval crier and you get the idea he knows his lot in life.

"Chuckles," Rose continues. "What do you think when you see arestaurant with no line? You think the food must be horrible. Therestaurant with a line at the door, that's the place you think, 'I'vegotto eat here.'"

Chuckles shrugs. "I don't go to restaurants with lines," he says.

Rose turns away. "Just don't say there's no line, all right?"

Rose smiles at the visitor in his booth. This is what the baseballlegend has to deal with, the look seems to say. With 4,256 hits to hisname, Rose sits in a booth, a glorified box really, on the Las VegasStrip. Right in front of a rock-climbing wall that rewards those whoreach the top with a bell ring. Right next to gigantic M&M figures.

Chances are if you come to Las Vegas any time soon, you too will beable to run into Pete Rose sitting in his box on The Strip.

"How many times have I been here this month," Rose asks Joie Casey,the promoter who dreamt up this Stars Live 365 booth (a star in thebooth to meet and interact with fans every day of the year).

"Fifteen I think, Pete," Casey answers.

"Fifteen," Rose repeats.

If you were looking for a quintessential Las Vegan, it'd be hard to beat Pete Rose. Sure, he's a southern Ohio boy, most often linked with Cincinnati, who claims L.A. as his primary residence. But there's no one more Las Vegas than Charlie Hustle. He commands The Strip, puts on a show for the folks who stop by, better than any carnival act.

For $50 plus the cost of whatever photo, bat, ball or bobblehead you purchase from him for him to sign, Rose gives you a signature, a photo in which he'll look like your best friend, a healthy dose of banter and maybe even a cell phone call back home to a Pete Rose admirer unlucky to have missed it all.

"Is that your daughter," Rose asks the man in an elderly couple,repeating a line that like his other favorite, "Is that your sister?"formother-daughter combos, always seems to draw a smile. The man bannedfrombaseball and its Hall of Fame for betting on the sport when he wasmanageris more than willing to please. When he finds out that the reporter inhisbooth writes about golf, he starts talking golf.

Free of charge.

Hit King, rehabbed duffer

Pete Rose caught the golf bug for a while, claims to have evenworkedhis way down to a 10-handicap. He used to play on his many Las Vegastrips(he has a timeshare in Sin City). But the man who relentlessly chasedperfection on the diamond, even leveled a catcher in an exhibitionAll-Star Game, couldn't come to terms with golf's fickle nature.

"I could hit 300, 400 balls a day and still not get thatconsistency,"Rose says. "Being able to hit a shot 175 yards on Sunday and not beingable to hit that same club 175 yards on Monday, that bothered me."

Rose also laments his lack of power. That's right, the man sometimesderided as a singles hitter found the long bomb absent in his golfarsenalas well.

"I couldn't hit the driver," Rose says. "You know why? Because inbaseball, you're swinging up at the ball off your back foot. In golf,you're swinging down off your front foot."

Rose picks up one of the bats he's selling, mimics a hitting motion.It's something he does often during these long autograph sessions withnoprompting.

A fan appears with a Pete Rose Phillies bobblehead, breaking thespell. Rose isn't a fan of the Phillies bobblehead.

"Have you seen the head-first bobblehead," Rose asks, referring tohissliding, Reds bobblehead - the premium $29.95 bobblehead. "It's the bestbobblehead ever."

A few minutes of this and the couple is buying the Cincinnatihead-first bobblehead. For a Phillies fan.

Casey tries shoving the signed, bulky head-first bobblehead into itsbox, straining to push the cardboard.

"Joie, you're putting it in backwards," Rose says, grabbing the box.Baseball's all-time hit king turns the bobblehead around, slides it in.

"Do I have to do everything?" Rose asks as the couple walks away.

Rose gives a signal. The receipts from the day so far are brought over for his inspection. This is the only thing Rose does more than parrot a baseball swing during these sessions. He checks the receipts religiously, wanting to know how much he's earned up to the half hour.

A woman makes a casual comment about the $50 price tag. Rose answersback with the speed of a Jeopardy champion. "If it was BarryBonds, you'd be paying $300," he says.

It's not a snap, but it's not gentle either.

Soon, Casey's left the booth, sent out to grab the Hit King aWendy'scoffee.

Today's wimpy athletes

Rose gets back to the golf on his own time. He doesn't play anymore,but he watches. And like with most things, carries concrete opinions onit. Rose likes the old guys on the Champions Tour, the Craig Stadlers ofthe world, who he's sure get things the way he gets things.

"The guys on the PGA Tour don't understand how to treat fans," Rosesays. "They have too much money. Look at Tiger Wood's caddy. What's hisname? Yanking that camera from a fan. You can't do that. Unless it says'absolutely no pictures' on the tickets, you can't do that."

Rose laughs at the idea of a flash from the crowd being distracting.He makes it clear that Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Co. might as wellbe sucking pacifiers in his book.

"I've played baseball with whiskey bottles being thrown at my head,"Rose says. "At Shea Stadium, in New York. I have no sympathy for thesegolfers who can't be bothered by a guy talking in the crowd. That's allhistory...that's what that shit is."

Rose looks up. A bubbly girl who cannot be a day over 20 is bouncingup to his table, her boyfriend trailing behind.

"Oh my God," the girl gushes. "Oh my God."

Rose smiles, prepared to answer to that moniker.

"Look at you," the baseball legend says, before turning his attentionto the boyfriend. "How did you get a woman like this? You must have gother drunk."

The boyfriend smiles politely, moves a little closer to hisgirlfriend. She's leaning over the table, putting her best featuresforward.

"You must wake up smiling every day," the 63-year-old Rose says totheboyfriend. "I'm sure she keeps a smile on your face."

The boyfriend runs his hands along the girl's back, squeezes her alittle tighter. Anything to make it clear she's with him. Rose winks.Thegirl grins.

Alas, the moment cannot last. In the end, the boyfriend gets areprieve because line must move along. After all, a moving line's money.Rose talks Sammy Sosa with a Cubs fan happy to see the one-time Chicagoicon gone.

"The thing I love is how Sosa wants us to believe that's the onetimehe ever went to the plate with a corked bat," Rose says, laughing. "Ihavea friend who works in that clubhouse. He told me there were 79 otherbatsin there with cork in them. Seventy-nine.

"It was like a Chinese fire drill to get rid of all them bats."

Rose also talks steroids. He talks Jose Canseco (doesn't trust him).

"I went to the plate 15,000 times and never needed steroids," Rose says. "... But why's everyone getting on Mark McGwire now? Was there any rule against it back when he took whatever he took? If there's no rule, how can you complain about him taking Nandro or whatever it was? There wasn't even a rule against steroids. If you don't have a rule against it, how can you criticize guys for taking it?"

A college-aged kid approaches the table, brandishing a baseball.

"Can you write HOF?" the kid asks, referring to the Hall Of Fame ofcourse.

"No," Rose answers evenly.

"How about HOF question mark?" the kid asks.

Rose gives him a look. "What are you going to do with the question mark if I get in the Hall," Charlie Hustle finally says.

The college kid shrugs, a perfect what-me-worry gesture.

The man with more hits than any other player in baseball history simply signs the ball Pete Rose, settles into his booth.

"Joie, can I get something to eat?"

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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