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The umps are bellowing: `Play ball' BY]By Larry Eldridge

April 8, 1985

AFTER 22 years and 3,371 major league games you'd expect it might be old hat to Pete Rose, but his eyes still light up like a little boy's at the thought of Opening Day. ``You never get over the thrill,'' he said as his Cincinnati Reds prepared to launch the 1985 baseball season against Montreal today in Riverfront Stadium. ``I know I'll have goose bumps again. I always do.''

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This is a historic season for Rose -- the one in which he almost surely will break Ty Cobb's longstanding record of 4,191 career hits. Several other veteran stars begin 1985 in quest of career milestones -- Tom Seaver and Phil Niekro aiming for the exclusive 300-victory club, Rod Carew going for his 3,000th hit, and Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan seeking an unprecedented 4,000 strikeouts. But in any season, for any player, manager, or just plain fan there's a special aura of excitement surrounding Opening Day.

Rose, of course, is all three of these things. He's a manager now, as well as a player, and he's been an ardent fan ever since his boyhood in Cincinnati.

``When I was a kid, if you could show an Opening Day ticket you were allowed out of school,'' Pete recalled the other day in Tampa, Fla., while alternately sharpening his own swing in the batting cage and directing the finishing touches of his first training camp as a manager.

``I went to a lot of games, starting when I was about 8 or 9,'' he added. ``My daddy used to take me. But Opening Day was always a special occasion -- especially in Cincinnati with all that tradition.''

Indeed, as the birthplace of professional baseball, Cincinnati was long accorded the privilege of launching the season one day ahead of all other teams. The National League continues to observe this tradition, but the American League, no longer willing to let its rival monopolize the day, has four openers of its own today with the other three tomorrow.

There will be a half million or so fans at the various games, including plenty of youngsters who manage not to be in school one way or another. Not many, of course, will ever play in a big-league game -- much less star for their own hometown team. But that's what happened to Rose, and although he has gone on to superstardom, he remembers his own first opener in 1963 as ``one of the most exciting moments of my entire career.''

``I'd gone to spring training as a 20-year-old on the minor league roster, and there I was playing for the Reds,'' he said. ``I was so high I had to slap myself to make sure it was all happening. Was I nervous? I was so excited I could have been nervous and not even known it.''

Now he's managing his first opener, and, although the Reds have been doormats of late, Pete has other ideas for 1985.

``I can't go into a season thinking we can improve and get to fourth place,'' he said. ``I don't believe in being unrealistic, but there are no outstanding teams in our division. Anything is possible.

``Look at the East Division last season. The Cubs and Mets were fifth and sixth the year before. If anybody told you last spring they'd be fighting for the pennant, you'd have laughed at him.''