Just over 40 years ago on the morning of July 5, 1981, my phone rang. It was Sidney High baseball coach Dave King to remind me that the Toronto Blue Jays were holding a tryout camp that morning and into the afternoon at Sidney’s Custenborder Field. He emphasized that “the nation’s top pitching prospect” was there. I told King I’d join him shortly.
It was a gorgeous day at the ballpark. Dave was having fun running a “Jugs” speed gun, tracking the fastball of right handed pitcher Tim Belcher from Ohio’s Mount Vernon Nazarene College. This was the nationally coveted hurler and he was regularly throwing over 90 miles an hour, downright impressive in 1991. He was a first-round selection a year later and had a solid big league career including a stint in Cincinnati.
Toronto area scout and Sidney Legion coach Steve Partington introduced me to the club’s eastern scouting supervisor Bob Engle who consented to a post-workout interview.
Batting practice was an interesting part of the day. Several hitters stung the ball solidly but none better than Versailles High School and then-recent Butler University graduate Tim Blakeley. For whatever reasons he wasn’t able to hook on with a big league organization. He had been the shortstop on Versailles 1977 state Class “A” runner-up.
We watched another hitter who caught our eye. He wore #14, was a switch-hitter, followed each taken pitch into the catcher’s mitt, and then gazed at an imaginary umpire. Sound familiar? We thought so.
Just then, Partington came over and revealed that the “prospect” was Pete Rose’s 21 year old roommate who was invited to the camp only as a favor to Rose. Tom Gioiosa’s hitting was unspectacular. He then went out to second base where more Rose mannerisms were exhibited.
Finally the session ended and curiosity had the better of me. I introduced myself to the diminutive former New Jersey college player whom the future “hit king” had befriended. We visited for several minutes. He told me about living with Pete in Rose’s suburban Western Hills mansion outside Cincinnati.
Since Pete played with the Phillies, he was in Cincinnati only a few times per summer, giving Gioiosa exclusive use of an exclusive residence. “It’s really a very nice arrangement,” he understated to me. I told him I was sure that it was, and we shook hands and parted company.
I next heard of Gioiosa in early 1984. A “Sports Illustrated” article profiling Rose mentioned that Pete’s girlfriend (future second wife) and her sister were living with Pete and Tom in that same Western Hills mansion. A photo showed the four of them doing dishes together. Pete would start that season in Montreal before returning to Cincinnati in mid-August as Reds player-manager.
Five more years passed. During spring training 1989, Rose’s world began to crumble. Gambling allegations against the Reds manager also implicated Gioiosa, who was also linked to steroids and other drug trafficking. News photos revealed that Tom was much bulkier than when I’d met him.
The headlines persisted through the summer of ‘89 involving Rose, Gioiosa, Paul Jantzen, Ron Peters, Jonathan’s Cafe, Gold’s Gym, Commissioner Bart Giamatti, and others. Finally, in August of that year, Pete Rose submitted to a lifetime ban from the game he loved.
My thoughts went back to July 5, 1981 at Custenborder Field in Sidney…..
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross is a 46-year media member, local sports historian, and Past President of the Shelby County Historical Society.