News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 4, 2011

Nearly 2 years later, Rex a local hit

Attendance edges upward in 2011

Dennis Clark
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — On a recent red-hot Sunday evening at Bob Warn Field, Terre Haute Rex general manager Roland Shelton pointed out an elderly lady sitting in the sun as a typical fan of the team.

“We have diehard fans that won’t miss a game,” Shelton said. “She has not missed a game, come rain, sleet or snow …  she’s coming!”

There hasn’t been much sleet, snow or, for that matter, rain this season, but fans like that elderly lady are coming out in droves to continue welcoming back summer baseball to Terre Haute.

The Rex had a successful inaugural season in 2010, attracting 23,109 fans for its 28 dates, an average of 825 per game. This year, despite a tough economy, the team has already drawn 23,351 fans in its first 25 dates, an average of 934 per game.

Tonight begins a three-game homestand that will put a cap on the 2011 regular season. Where do things stand for the Rex, which is about to complete its second season of existence? We asked for a “State of the Rex” report from three principals in the organization:

In the front office

“We put a special emphasis in placing Terre Haute prominently on the uniforms, and there’s a reason for it … we wanted the Rex to be truly a community team,” Indiana State University Foundation President Gene Crume stated.

The franchise is owned by Sycamore Foundation Holdings, a nonprofit subsidiary of the ISU Foundation.

Crume indicated the ISU Foundation had a pair of goals in mind by creating the Rex. First, it was an investment of funds that would ultimately return funds to the Foundation. Second, Terre Haute would receive a positive boost by bringing back summer baseball.

“ISU would benefit, ISU athletics would benefit, the ISU Foundation benefits and it  lifts the quality of life in Terre Haute too,” Crume noted. “People coming to the games see the quality of baseball, the quality of Bob Warn Field. They talk about Terre Haute, they talk about the community.

“If we have some good crowds the last three games, we will be at right about 1,000 [per game],” Crume added. “That would be right at our projected goal. We hope the fans make that final push.”

This year’s profitability of the Rex won’t be officially known until after this season, but Crume did say, “From all indications, we’re going to have a very good financial year.”

In the stands

For many prospective fans, the Rex was a novelty in 2010 … it sounded promising, but would it have a lasting effect?

“The inaugural season was just a special year,” Shelton said. “People came out to see what the Rex baseball process was all about. The community gave us tremendous support.

“Not having benchmarks that first year on attendance or expectations, our marketing was good, but we tweaked it a little bit more this year. We increased our events calendar to give more outreach to various organizations.

“Quite honestly, we have a lot more interaction with our fans. People now understand the Rex baseball organization process and it’s a great brand of baseball with our coaches and players on the field.”

The emphasis from day one was for a fan friendly experience.

Shelton pointed out 2011 improvements such as the Kids Zone, a partnership with Louise’s Copper Catering (food service) and Bagnoche Sports (souvenirs), increased brand presence in signage, corporate sponsorship packages, even a suite for fans in a third of the pressbox.

“Our pressbox team with Mark Edwards and Jimmie Baugh have really made the entertainment level heightened too,” Shelton said. “Their music, their script for the game, they keep the fans involved.”

This year, 26 events — Negro League Night, Cancer Survivors Night, for example — have been scheduled this season, an increase from last year.

“Our host family program is incredible, Becky Buse is our coordinator … she does an incredible job,” Shelton said. “All the players were placed last year, all were placed this year. All the kids have homes. From the excitement and success, we have more families that want to do that next year.”

Shelton also dispelled any perceived “rivalry” between the Rex and ISU baseball.

“[Director of Athletics] Ron Prettyman and [ISU baseball coach] Rick Heller are great to work with. [ISU President] Dr. [Donald] Bradley, Gene Crume, all of us are on the same team to make this successful. The Rex baseball summer league process is here to bring additional identity to ISU athletics. It’s been a great handshake.”

Shelton says fans coming to Warn Field could enjoy a new look next season with a new scoreboard in left field, a “replica of a bat,” he hinted.

Shelton hopes chairback seats can be finalized in the reserved seating area. He is also toying with the idea of a 6:05 p.m. start time for Sunday games, back from 5:05 p.m. this year “to beat the heat.”

In the field of play

The Rex won 29 games in 2010. The Rex have already won 29 games heading into the final five games of this season, with the responsibility of building a winning baseball team falling to manager Brian Dorsett.

Dorsett is upbeat about the quality of young men he’s had on his team the past two years, including several names familiar to local fans and many others from around the country.

“You never know with young kids how they’re going to respond,” Dorsett said after a recent game. “But I’m excited about the contacts we’ve made, some of the [college] programs we have players coming out of now. I think it will breed for a lot more success. It should be a really positive aspect to what’s trying to happen with the Rex organization and the Prospect League.”

“We’re learning things about what it takes to be successful. The players have been fun to deal with on a day-in and day-out basis. They bring it.”

While these are college players, Dorsett knows much of his and the coaches’ time is devoted to teaching the game of baseball.

“They’re going to make mistakes, being young kids,” Dorsett noted. “Some nights they look like major league players and other days they look like somebody that you see have a problem in Little League, just learning how to play the game.

“There’s that range of emotions. They’re not used to playing everyday. I keep telling them, in the minor leagues you play 144 [games], in the major leagues you play 162 [games]. We’re only going to play 56 games.

“Most of these kids, they aren’t built right now … a few of them are the kind of guys that can play everyday I think and grab that [concept]. That’s what this experience is all about. Trying to get them ready for that. Give them a taste. A lot of them sure won’t have a chance to play [professionally], but certainly does give them the opportunity to feel like a pro.

“That’s what [Prospect League commissioner] David Chase and the [Prospect] League have come up with, amateur baseball played in a professional manner. That’s what we’re trying to give them. The wood bat. We’re still working on it. I think it’s coming along.”

“Not having benchmarks that first year on attendance or expectations, our marketing was good, but we tweaked it a little bit more this year. We increased our events calendar to give more outreach to various organizations.

“Quite honestly, we have a lot more interaction with our fans. People now understand the Rex baseball organization process and it’s a great brand of baseball with our coaches and players on the field.”

The emphasis from day one was for a fan friendly experience.

Shelton pointed out 2011 improvements such as the Kids Zone, a partnership with Louise’s Copper Catering (food service) and Bagnoche Sports (souvenirs), increased brand presence in signage, corporate sponsorship packages, even a suite for fans in a third of the pressbox.

“Our pressbox team with Mark Edwards and Jimmie Baugh have really made the entertainment level heightened too,” Shelton said. “Their music, their script for the game, they keep the fans involved.”

This year, 26 events — Negro League Night, Cancer Survivors Night, for example — have been scheduled this season, an increase from last year.

“Our host family program is incredible, Becky Buse is our coordinator … she does an incredible job,” Shelton said. “All the players were placed last year, all were placed this year. All the kids have homes. From the excitement and success, we have more families that want to do that next year.”

Shelton also dispelled any perceived “rivalry” between the Rex and ISU baseball.

“[Director of Athletics] Ron Prettyman and [ISU baseball coach] Rick Heller are great to work with. [ISU President] Dr. [Donald] Bradley, Gene Crume, all of us are on the same team to make this successful. The Rex baseball summer league process is here to bring additional identity to ISU athletics. It’s been a great handshake.”

Shelton says fans coming to Warn Field could enjoy a new look next season with a new scoreboard in left field, a “replica of a bat,” he hinted.

Shelton hopes chairback seats can be finalized in the reserved seating area. He is also toying with the idea of a 6:05 p.m. start time for Sunday games, back from 5:05 p.m. this year “to beat the heat.”

In the field of play

The Rex won 29 games in 2010. The Rex have already won 29 games heading into the final five games of this season, with the responsibility of building a winning baseball team falling to manager Brian Dorsett.

Dorsett is upbeat about the quality of young men he’s had on his team the past two years, including several names familiar to local fans and many others from around the country.

“You never know with young kids how they’re going to respond,” Dorsett said after a recent game. “But I’m excited about the contacts we’ve made, some of the [college] programs we have players coming out of now. I think it will breed for a lot more success. It should be a really positive aspect to what’s trying to happen with the Rex organization and the Prospect League.”

“We’re learning things about what it takes to be successful. The players have been fun to deal with on a day-in and day-out basis. They bring it.”

While these are college players, Dorsett knows much of his and the coaches’ time is devoted to teaching the game of baseball.

“They’re going to make mistakes, being young kids,” Dorsett noted. “Some nights they look like major league players and other days they look like somebody that you see have a problem in Little League, just learning how to play the game.

“There’s that range of emotions. They’re not used to playing everyday. I keep telling them, in the minor leagues you play 144 [games], in the major leagues you play 162 [games]. We’re only going to play 56 games.

“Most of these kids, they aren’t built right now … a few of them are the kind of guys that can play everyday I think and grab that [concept]. That’s what this experience is all about. Trying to get them ready for that. Give them a taste. A lot of them sure won’t have a chance to play [professionally], but certainly does give them the opportunity to feel like a pro.

“That’s what [Prospect League commissioner] David Chase and the [Prospect] League have come up with, amateur baseball played in a professional manner. That’s what we’re trying to give them. The wood bat. We’re still working on it. I think it’s coming along.”