CINCINNATI (AP) -- Instead of rambling toward third base and flinging himself defiantly on his chest, Pete Rose ambled over and carefully flopped on his belly.
The hits king can't get down-and-dirty anymore -- he's 61 and out of shape -- but he hasn't lost his singular talent for providing signature moments.
His last one at Cinergy Field will bring the house down.
Rose organized a celebrity softball game Monday night that marked the end of a stadium where he made so much history. With 40,000 fans chanting his name and close friend Mike Schmidt conspiring to help, Rose closed the place with one last headfirst slide.
"Did I slide? What I did was fall down 10 feet from third base," Rose said. "That's what the fans wanted to see."
They didn't get to see it on Sunday, when the Cincinnati Reds played their final game. Fifty-two famous Reds were on the field after the game, but Rose's lifetime ban for gambling kept him away.
A seven-inning softball game has to serve as his farewell.
"It probably would have been a lot better if I could have done it yesterday, but we all know I couldn't do that," Rose said.
Fans paid $20 or $30 for tickets to get a Rose bobblehead and see former major league stars play a little softball. There was no mistaking the main attraction: Rose's No. 14 was cut into the infield grass.
The crowd erupted into "Pete! Pete! Pete!" for more than a minute during pregame introductions. With his untucked No. 14 jersey hiding his belly, Rose played third base and handled the only ball hit his way.
The main attraction was the chance to see Rose dig in at the ballpark for the first time since Aug. 17, 1986, when he pinch-hit and struck out against Goose Gossage. He warned fans not to expect much.
"I can guarantee there's one thing you will not see me do, and that's a headfirst slide," Rose said. "I can't get going fast enough to do it. My knees are killing me. But I will get a hit. I will hit a rope somewhere."
Holding an aluminum bat instead of a black wooden Mizuno, Rose got into the box and swung from an upright stance -- his knees prevented him from getting into his customary crouch.
He lined out to Schmidt, a Hall of Fame third baseman, and hit a grounder to him in his first two at-bats.
Rose, who started a 44-game hitting streak in Cincinnati, knew he'd get only one more chance to do something special.
"I thought I was in my hitting streak days again," Rose said.
For his last at-bat, Schmidt moved generously wide of third and barely reached for Rose's grounder, letting it roll into the outfield for a hit that set up his satisfying flop.
The four main components of the Big Red Machine -- Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez -- later thanked fans over the public address system for turning out.
"They got to see a headfirst slide," Bench said. "They got to see everything you could ask for in a closing night."
Rose had most of the historic moments at the stadium, which opened with his single on June 30, 1970. He gave it a legacy a few days later by bowling over Ray Fosse to win an All-Star game.
Dave Parker (left) hugged Pete Rose following a celebrity softball game Monday at Cinergy field in Cincinnati.
The stadium's defining moment came on Sept. 11, 1985, when he singled to left-center field for hit No. 4,192, breaking Ty Cobb's record.
It hardly mattered to fans that Rose had changed a lot in the interim, which included his lifetime ban in 1989, a prison term on tax charges, and a long-standing tussle with baseball over reinstatement.
"I wanted to show my support for Pete," said Mark Donnan, 46, of West Liberty, Ohio, who bought a $25 commemorative shirt. "I think he deserves a place in the Hall of Fame. Everybody that's here is here for him."
One of the many banners in the stands said: "Rose in the Hall. Bet on it."
Better not, Schmidt suggested.
Schmidt, who grew up in nearby Dayton with a Rose poster on his bedroom door, thinks Rose would be in the Hall of Fame now if he would have admitted his mistakes and apologized in 1989.
Schmidt doesn't see an end to the stalemate between Rose and baseball.
"I believe we're kind of past that time," Schmidt said. "And unfortunately, I think Pete's sort of fallen into the bad-boy role. He's got a tremendous following around the country for this reason. I think we're almost to the point now where it's become a way of life for Pete."
For one night, it was good enough.
"The fans can make you really good," Rose said, standing on the field as the crowd chanted his name one last time.
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