BROWNSBURG – He’s standing just inside the door of Pit Stop BBQ & Grill in Brownsburg, like he’s waiting for me. Only, he’s not. He has no idea that I’m coming, or even who I am. But he’s standing there, and this is opportunity knocking, so I decide to test David Rose.
It starts like this, one stranger to another. I ask: How are you?
Rose: “If I was any better, I’d have a twin.”
There it is. My opening. Instead of nodding and moving past to go eat, I pretend to give him the once-over.
You know, I tell David Rose, you look like somebody. Do you have a twin? You look familiar.
“Nope,” he says. “Maybe you’ve been here before.”
Nah. But you sure do look … ah, I tell him. I know who you look like.
There it is. Just tested David Rose, threw out the bait. Time for him to gobble it up and tell me who he is. Or at least, who somebody else is. Time for him to bask in the glow of his older brother, one of the most famous athletes of the 20th century.
David Rose doesn’t nibble. He just stares at me. He’s wondering why I’m here, what’s my angle, and too late I realize what just happened. I wasn’t testing Pete Rose’s younger brother.
Pete Rose’s brother was testing me.
David Rose tells me how it is, right up front. We slide into a booth after the lunch rush at the Pit Stop, where he’s been a cook since it opened a few years ago, and he volunteers that “people use me to get to Pete.”
He says it with no hard feelings. After 66 years David Rose knows what he knows. And what he knows, what he has learned about human nature, is that people will take until someone tells them no. Over the years David Rose learned how to say no.
Just a few minutes of Pete’s time. That’s all they want. Just one autograph or better yet, one autograph show. Or maybe he can speak at my golf event. He’s your brother. Ask him for me, huh?
“That’s been going on a long time,” David Rose tells me. “Used to bother me, but I’ve learned how to see through those people.”
He saw me coming a mile away, so I’m not pretending anymore. I’m not here because you’re you, I tell David Rose. I’m here because you’re his brother.
“That’s fair,” he says.
It’s like I’m looking Pete in the eye. Same jaw jutting out to here. Same billboard-sized forehead. Pete Rose’s cranium is large and sharply angled, nothing round about it, and David Rose has the same skull. Same intense eyes, same powerful body. Same forearms. Same strut. Same.
I start to say it. You look …
“Like Pete,” he says.
As a kid, I tell him, Pete was my favorite player. I even switch-hit for a few years, crouched low. To be like him.
Pete Rose’s kid brother says, “I’ve heard that before.”
David Rose coaches high school baseball. Right here in this area. Did you know that? He’s an assistant at Mooresville High, has been for two years. He coaches outfielders. He coaches first base.
He’s a target, is what he is.
Hey, Pete Rose’s brother. Think he bet on this game?
“It’s happened a few times,” David Rose says, “you know, when we’re kicking the (expletive) out of them.”
This is Pete Rose’s brother, all right. Abrasive, occasionally bombastic, meaner than …
“Hi Dot,” he says to an older woman who walks past our booth. “Hope you had a happy Mother’s Day.”
Regular customers appear, and he calls their name. Our waitress, he says loudly enough for her to hear as she walks away, “is the best. I mean, the best.”
This is his own man, all right. He’s Pete Rose’s brother, he’s David Rose – and somewhere during his 66 years he became comfortable being both.
It’s been going on since 1963, when Pete grinded out the first 170 of his 4,256 career hits for the Cincinnati Reds, winning National League Rookie of the Year. David Rose was a fine ballplayer himself, a budding high school star in Cincinnati. In 1967 he was an all-state second baseman on Western Hills’ state champion. But it was the same town where his brother was a star. You think Cincinnati noticed the kid at Western Hills?
Yeah, David Rose didn’t just fall off the turnip truck and fall into Pete’s shadow last week. This has been happening for 50 years.
The spatula brought David Rose to Indianapolis. Brickyard Crossing hired him in May 2008, smack dab in the middle of the Indy 500.
“You work in that restaurant in May,” says David Rose, his occasional bombast seeping out, “you can work at any restaurant in the country.”
Two years ago Mooresville baseball coach Eric McGaha needed an assistant, and a mutual friend who teaches in Mooresville told McGaha about a guy she knew. David, was his name. David Rose.
“She said: ‘He’s Pete Rose’s brother,'” McGaha was telling me. “I didn’t care. Does he know baseball?”
Does he? Listen, David Rose had a future in the game, a future not even two years holding a gun – Vietnam – could stop. Rose signed out of high school with the Pirates, played two years of outfield in the minors, then went to ‘Nam. He came back in 1971 planning to reach the bigs in a few years – “I’d have fit right in out there in the (Reds’) outfield,” he says, letting slip a little more bombast – but plans, you know? We make them. God laughs. In David Rose’s case, a driver near Tampa crossed the yellow line, ran into him and took off. Rose had a crumpled sedan and a broken kneecap.
David Rose wasn’t healed in time for spring training. He was released on Easter Sunday.
“I was heartbroken,” David says. “Devastated.”
Well, he battled. He became a paramedic. Became a cook at his brother’s restaurant in Boca Raton. Ran a Popeye’s in Cincinnati. Came to Indianapolis in 2008. Decided over the years that the best work he ever had – great benefits, camaraderie – was that paramedic job in Tampa. Leaving it? That was Pete’s idea.
“I kid him,” David Rose tells me. “I say, ‘Every time I see you I want to hit you in the face.'”
Well, they’re not close.
“We could be closer,” he says. “I’ll be straight up with you. He’s the star. I have to call him.”
Pete’s in town once a year. An autograph show brings him. Hey, that’s Pete. Charlie Hustle as a player, and now. David Rose isn’t afraid to hustle, either. He figures he’ll work the rest of his life, by choice not necessity, and he’ll coach at Mooresville as long as he can. He fell in August and shattered his elbow and still can’t throw batting practice, but he’s the guy who walks onto the team bus after a loss – once 13-5, Mooresville has dropped seven of eight to fall to 14-12 – and tells the kids, “We’ve got the next one.”
McGaha says kids on the team don’t know much about Pete Rose, and David Rose isn’t inclined to educate them. What he does, though, is talk about the family’s work ethic. Here’s how David Rose does that:
“He talks about how his father was sweeping floors at a local bank,” McGaha says, “and retired as a branch manager.”
David Rose is his father’s son, but he’s also Pete’s brother. And he’s proud of his brother.
“Pete wasn’t a great athlete,” he says. “But he was a pretty good baseball player. Only I know how hard he worked to get there. I used to sleep in the same room. I admire the guy.”
When he made David Rose his assistant, Eric McGaha told him two things. One, “I’m not hiring you because of your brother. I’m hiring you because of your knowledge.”
“I told him Pete was my favorite player,” McGaha says.
David Rose can’t escape his brother, not that he wants to. He admires the guy. Loves him. Wishes Pete wouldn’t come to Indy just for an autograph show or to see LeBron James visit the Pacers. Wishes his brother would come to Indy to see him. But that’s life, and life has been good to David Rose.
“Great job,” he says. “Great girlfriend. And I love Indianapolis. The people here are so nice.”
He lives near 10th Street and Belmont Avenue. He goes to the mall Downtown. He wears a Reds cap. He hears it:
Hey, that’s Pete Rose.
David Rose stands. It’s time to get back to the kitchen, and he prides himself on giving an honest day’s work. He leaves with a smile and a strut. But not before telling me about the mall and the Reds cap and being mistaken for somebody else.
“If I let that stuff bother me,” Pete Rose’s brother says. “I’d have been looney-tunes years ago.”