TERRE HAUTE —
Metaphorically, the Terre Haute Rex faced a 3-2 count with a fireballer on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, down a run. Another strike and it would be over. Not only the game, but the season, the franchise.
That is only somewhat more dramatic than the reality that the Rex — Terre Haute’s summer collegiate league baseball team — faced at the end of last season. The team’s previous owners, the good folks at the Indiana State University Foundation, weren’t really in the baseball business anymore, and the Rex business was suffering from financial woes. The team was in perilously real danger of ceasing to exist, at least as the Rex and/or at least in Terre Haute.
But, as the Tribune-Star reported on Dec. 14 and again on Dec. 18, a group of six member-owners has now bought the team, for $90,000, and plans to keep it in Terre Haute and keep it named the Rex.
To keep it here, in fact, is why the new owners say they bought it — money aside.
“It’s a community effort to keep this entity here,” one of the owners, Bruce Rosselli, said. Rosselli, you may recall, was a world-class bobsledder and most recently an idea man at the Terre Haute Parks Department — the catalyst, in fact, for the naming of a diamond at Spencer Ball Park in honor of Tommy John, Terre Haute’s former Major League pitching phenom. So Rosselli knows whereof he speaks about community support.
And it will take all of the community support Rosselli and his co-owners can muster to drive the Rex to greater success, for the effort still faces challenging odds: The team plays in the worst heat of the summer, in the middle of a triangle of Major League baseball cities (Chicago, St., Louis and Cincinnati) that have strong local followings, and in the midst of a vibrant American Legion and youth league baseball culture. The team has great talents, but few players are local, cutting into potential fan base. All of those can detract from fan interest and — bottom line — from putting people in the seats.
To make the Rex a lasting success will require the new owners to field a consistently talented, watchable team that can connect with local fans. It will require a renewed effort in constant promotions such as giveaways, in-game contests, fireworks, post-game concerts, trading cards, public service appearances — the same kinds of things Major League teams provide. It will require broader support from local businesses — signage, product specials, sponsorships.
All of that — and more — can be done, and much of it already has been done.
But new ownerships and new emphases give the Rex hope for new blood as the team and its community advance on next season. Rosselli and his partners — former Rex manager and Major League catcher Brian Dorsett, Bob Brown, John Newton, Ray Kepner and Kevin Hoolehan — have done the community a great bit of service by buying the team and vowing to give it new life.
We’re confident the new owners were fully cognizant of the challenges before buying into the effort, and we know that they are committed to making the effort work and keeping organized baseball alive and well in Terre Haute.