I’m sitting on the very edge in the front row, regretting my choice to wear jeans instead of a skirt or a dress. Everyone else in the room looks much fancier than I do.
When Pete Rose walks in for our small group conference, he picks the chair closest to me. He jokes with Terence Moore and makes a “Field of Dreams” reference. He’s wearing a white, flat bill Cincinnati Reds hat, a brown striped button-down shirt and a pair of light tan, worn leather boots.
There is a small number embroidered on his crisp shirtsleeve. 14. His old baseball number.
As he begins fielding questions, I notice his socks. Every time he shifts in his seat, his pant leg slips above his ankle to reveal a patterned sock.
Pete Rose is in front of me, talking about how he thinks kids should play multiple sports instead of one, the attitude problem plaguing the current Cincinnati Reds team, his views on professional players taking paternity leave, how we should never be satisfied and how the sky is the limit.
Pete Rose is in front of me, cracking jokes about how many times he’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, explaining how nervous he was to talk with Babe Ruth’s daughter, and admitting his regrets toward betting on baseball and not earning more than a high school diploma.
Pete Rose is right in front of me, and I keep wondering about the pattern on his socks.
As people around the room raise their hands and ask thoughtful, well-constructed questions, my mind races to pick something to focus on. I should have prepared more for this.
Should I ask him about “Moneyball” and what he thinks about politics overcoming baseball? Or maybe how he feels about coaches now being able to question umpire calls? Or do I pick a deep question, something about the best moment in his life? Would it even be a moment from his baseball career?
I eventually settle on a question about baseball and why he thinks it, over all other sports, is the American pastime. He talks about the rich history, about 1869, about how a Michael Jordan will never be the same as a Babe Ruth.
His answer makes me smile, even if it wasn’t exactly what I had hoped he would say.
Mine is the last question. The seminar is over — he needs to rush off to the next event on his schedule for the day. He tells a funny story about Willie Mays, we pose for a picture as a group, he makes one last joke about the ideal place to stand in photos, then heads out the door.
I grab my backpack, suddenly convinced that there might be a story behind the pattern on his socks. It could be the perfect detail — what if there was something symbolic, something meaningful, behind his choice in sock pattern?
I rush out the door and look around for him in the lobby. But he’s already outside, sitting on the golf cart that will take him across campus for dinner.
There are two guys getting a picture with him, and a few more who seem to be lining up to do the same. But I interject as they walk away, stepping up and saying that I have one last question.
“What’s on your socks?”
He looks confused. I point at his feet and clarify, explaining that I was wondering what the pattern was.
“What’s the pattern?” I ask.
Pete Rose leans down, pulls up a pant leg to reveal his sock, and laughs a little.
“I don’t know,” he says in his deep, gravely voice.
I look at his sock. The odd, blue flower-like clusters above his boot. And I still can’t tell what they are.
I back away, stammering an explanation for my ridiculous question, embarrassed and unable to look him in the eye.
Then it occurs to me, I have no reason to be ashamed. Three years ago, I never would have approached Pete Rose with a personal question, let alone a question concerning his choice in a sock pattern.
The journalist in me beams.
I actually asked Pete Rose, the Hit King, what pattern was on his socks.