News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 11, 2009

TODD GOLDEN: At long last ... baseball; it's a great day for Terre Haute

By Todd Golden

TERRE HAUTE — I’m not supposed to get outwardly excited about sports in Terre Haute, I’m supposed to report on it. Ninety-nine times out of 100, that’s exactly what I strive to do.

This is an exception. I am unabashedly excited. After a 54-year wait, organized baseball will be back on the docket in Terre Haute next summer as the Terre Haute Rex will make their debut in the Prospect League, a 14-team summer collegiate baseball loop.

At long last, Terre Haute has baseball. At long last, Terre Haute has become a 365-day-a-year spectator sports city. A once fallow sports summer in Terre Haute will now be punctuated by the sweet crack of a wooden bat.

I can’t wait.

Going to a baseball game is just different. There’s few, if any, other sporting events where the action on the field is almost secondary to the experience of just chilling out and being there.

Terre Haute hasn’t had that opportunity since the Eisenhower administration. Now, local baseball fans won’t have to make the minimum of a one-hour drive to sip that beer, to taste that hot dog, to give their kids that iconic parent-to-son or parent-to-daughter baseball experience.

Bringing baseball back to Terre Haute for the first time since the Eisenhower administration has long been discussed. It’s been bandied about for the five-plus years I’ve been in town. Local supporters like Brian Dorsett have tried for years to get a team going. I’ve written numerous columns about wanting to have a team and my desire to have something to anchor Terre Haute’s sports summers. ISU did a feasibility study in 2006 and found that a franchise would work here.

However, it was all talk until a stadium could be built.

Credit for getting that hurdle cleared goes to the ISU Foundation and the ISU athletic department. ISU Foundation President Gene Crume, ISU Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Curt Wilkinson, ISU President Daniel Bradley, former ISU President Lloyd Benjamin, ISU Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman, former ISU baseball coach Lindsay Meggs and ISU Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Ramey were among the many who got the stadium done.

It took a vision, it took time, it took weathering the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and in some respects, it took frugal compromise to get a stadium built. It will be smaller than originally proposed, but it will be done.

Construction continues on the $2.5 million Bob Warn Field renovation as this is written. The stadium should be ready for the Sycamores when they open their season in March. The Rex will begin in June. Without that stadium, organized baseball would still be a Terre Haute pipe dream.

But it’s not just the ISU community that made this happen. Among the things I like most about the Terre Haute Rex is that the franchise embodies the type of cooperation between different parts of the community I think Terre Haute is capable of accomplishing on a regular basis.

There would be no team without the collective work of the university and the city’s corporate community, in this case, Clabber Girl Corporation, whose Rex Coffee Brand gives the team its name.

Last year, on a football trip to North Dakota State, I wrote that I was struck by the contrast between Fargo, N.D. -- a city that wears its love of NDSU sports on its sleeve -- and Terre Haute -- a city that, with few exceptions, is not outward about its passion for the high-level sporting events in its own backyard.

The Rex can transform that. It is in the university’s interest, specifically the ISU Foundation, owners of the franchise, to reach out to the community and make the franchise a success. It is in Clabber Girl’s interest too, not only to justify their involvement and move more Rex Brand Coffee, but also to demonstrate to Terre Haute that if it is worth their investment, the baseball endeavor must be well worth the community’s support too.

It’s been a long time since there was an athletic entity based in Terre Haute that could unite the city behind it, perhaps the Terre Haute Huts (who disbanded in 1956) were that last entity. ISU sports should be that entity, but there’s been a icy divide between university and community through the generations that’s been hard to melt.

The Rex get to start fresh. There are no ISU strings attached. This team will live or die based on Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley’s enthusiasm for the team. I think the city is up to the challenge to make it work.

Perhaps by proxy, maybe some of that ice between community and university will melt too. I’m not shy in my Haute pride, I think Hauteans should be proud of this city’s rich sports scene and should support it all, be it the Sycamores, Rose-Hulman, the high schools, youth sports, all of it.

Now there’s the Rex. Now there’s baseball. This is a great day for Terre Haute.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.