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Hit king a strange fit for Oregon Classic.

Byline: Ron Bellamy / The Register-Guard

Fell asleep during the late TV news one night earlier this summer. Woke up the next morning thinking I'd had the most incredibly bizarre dream.

Dreamt that Pete Rose was coming to the Oregon Classic golf tournament. Bizarro, indeed.

Yet it's not a strange dream, just maybe a little strange.

The Oregon Classic, the Nationwide Tour event that will be played at Shadow Hills Country Club from Sept. 16-19, has secured baseball's all-time hits leader as its first-ever keynote speaker for the pro-am "Pairings Party" on Tuesday night, Sept. 14, at Valley River Inn.

For an undisclosed fee, Rose will participate in a question-and-answer session prior to the party, and deliver a 30-minute speech during it.

We can debate whether Pete Rose has anything to do with golf, or with Oregon - and whether his image is exactly what the Oregon Classic wants to embrace - but the theory behind the idea is sound.

The pro-am, in which up to 54 foursomes pay $5,000 per group to play 18 holes with a Nationwide Tour pro, is a major source of financial support - behind only signature sponsor Kendall Auto Group - for the golf tournament, which generates revenue for Kidsports.

Wanting to keep the pro-am event a compelling draw, and concerned about the departure from the local community of Sony - which sponsored "multiple foursomes" in past pro-ams, according to tournament director Chris Roche - the Oregon Classic decided to spice up the annual "Pairings Party."

It's not an unimportant matter; a surprising number of Nationwide Tour events have gone under since the Oregon Classic made its debut in 1998, and it behooves tournaments to find new ways to draw fans and sponsors to stay afloat.

"The pro-am is a great event, and the people who participate in it love it, but we needed to find a way to attract new people," Roche said.

Roche said the "Pairings Party," which also will feature a comedian, Don McMillian, got a good deal from Rose, who agreed to come for "not near what his normal fee is" because of Kidsports. (A Web site, Playing Field Promotions, lists Rose's standard fee at $30,000 to $50,000.)

Roche said the Classic considered other headliners, either with greater ties to golf or to this area. But Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus would have been too expensive, Roche said, while golf announcer David Feherty - in the $20,000 range - was committed to the Ryder Cup, and Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge, the North Eugene grad, also had a scheduling conflict.

So the Oregon Classic landed Rose, which, based on entertainment value - for sports fans and especially baseball fans - seems a reasonable gamble, and you'll pardon the cheap shot.

"Charlie Hustle" is a sports icon. In 24 seasons with the Reds, Phillies and Expos he got 4,256 hits and made 17 All-Star teams. He was the National League's rookie of the year in 1963, its MVP in 1973 and was the MVP of the '75 World Series. He won the batting title three times, and won three World Series rings.

But Rose also agreed to a lifetime ban from baseball in 1989 after an investigation that he bet on games when he managed the Reds. He spent five months in prison in 1990-91 for filing false tax returns, and AP reported last week that he owes nearly $1 million in back taxes.

After 14 years of denying it, Rose admitted in his recent book, "My Prison Without Bars," that he bet on games involving the Reds while he managed them. Now, Rose hopes to be reinstated by baseball and be eligible for the Hall of Fame.

And so his presence in connection with the Oregon Classic seems a bit incongruous. Not that gambling is foreign to a friendly round of golf, but golf is such a game of integrity, a game in which you call penalty strokes on yourself.

Now, here comes Rose, who in essence lied about a fairly major transgression in his sport for more than a decade, to speak at this area's major professional golf event. Seems a bit of an odd fit to me.

Ah, well. Rose won't be dull, and next year it won't seem odd when the Classic brings in, say, Don King.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 25, 2004
Words:714
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