By STEVE KRAH
The Terre Haute Rex have been on the summer collegiate wood bat baseball scene since 2010.
Terre Haute native Bruce Rosselli was there at the start.
A 1976 North Vigo High School graduate and former Indiana State University track and field decathlete who went on to spend 17 years as an elite bobsled driver (he is a three-time national champion, two-time world champion and a winner in the Europa Cup and Americas Cup), was a volunteer assistant speed and strength coach for the Rex.
He attended home games and put players through workouts at Union Hospital.
“I worked on their speed and their psyche,” says Rosselli. “I took some of the things I learned from driving a bobsled like positive thinking and mental imagery. I had to slow everything down and learn to push away negativity.
“I was teaching pitchers how to be confident on the mound and control the tempo of the game.”
The Rex (which takes their name from a coffee brand established in 1879) was originally owned by the Indiana State University Foundation.
In December 2013, Rosselli and partners — Brian Dorsett (field manager 2010-12), Bob Brown, John Newton, Ray Kepner and Kevin Hoolehan — bought the team.
General manager Rosselli and Dorsett are principal owners of the Rex. Newton later stepped down, leaving the others as the current ownership group.
Rosselli’s position is full-time and does everything from marketing to recruiting players.
He sees the Rex as an asset to the community.
In 2014, Rosselli and company had their first season with the Rex and a survey found that 63 percent of fans who exit a baseball stadium don’t know who won or lost the game.
“They just know they had a good time,” says Rosselli. “That’s who we market to. The 37 percent are always going to be there. How do we get the 63 percent back every time?
The Rex markets to a 40- to 50-mile radius of Terre Haute. The Wabash Valley represents about 500,000 people.
Rosselli wants them to consider coming to ISU’s Bob Warn Field when they come to town to dine or go to Terre Haute Children’s Museum.
“We have between-inning games with kids running and racing and dizzy bat,” says Rosselli. “The baseball game itself is secondary.
“We’re putting on this big show.”
Community members and sponsors are recognized. Low-cost, high-quality concessions is a priority.
“We don’t want people coming here saying that food is no good so we’re going to eat somewhere else before (the game),” says Rosselli. “We bring $1.5 million to $2.1 million (annually) to the local economy every summer.”
Stores, retail shops, gas stations, hotels and restaurants all benefit from having the Rex in Terre Haute.
“Every $1 turns over seven times,” says Rosselli.
Rosselli says some companies that partner with the team are looking for Return On Investment (ROI) and others do it as a service to the community.
“They’re helping us provide entertainment for all of the Wabash Valley,” says Rosselli. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
On the baseball side of things, Rosselli hires a manager to assemble a team of players from around the country. In 2023, it will be Harry Markotay.
“We do want to have competitive play,” says Rosselli. “Since we’ve owned the team we’ve only had one year where we didn’t have a very good season.”
The Rex went 37-23 in the Prospect League 2022. Terre Haute won Prospect League titles in 2015 (managed by Bobby Segal) and 2018 (managed by Tyler Wampler).
Rosselli begins making recruiting calls as soon as the season is over. All position players on a roster of around 30 are committed and the focus for 2023 is to get more pitchers.
Players stay with host families — some who’ve been with the Rex since Day 1.
“They love having that experience with a player in their home,” says Rosselli. “They can go out there and root for them every game, know their name and their parents’ names.
“It’s a friend for life.”
Bruce and wife Cheryl Rosselli (a former world table tennis champion) have two children — Paige and Tony.
Paige Rosselli (North Vigo Class of 2008) is a former Rex intern. Tony Rosselli (North Vigo Class of 2012) played a Indiana State University and with the Rex. He has had host families as a college and independent pro player.
There are many moving parts and a short window between the end of the Indiana State season and the beginning for the Rex. Tractor trailers bring in trash cans. Beverage sales and souvenir sales must be set up. Up to 60 banners stored in Rosselli’s office across Third Street are put up around the ballpark.
“We saw the stadium come alive,” says Rosselli.
The Rex partners with ISU for Sport Management and Marketing students to do internships with the team. There’s also the opportunity work with the media company who broadcasts the games.
“I want to see players go to the next level, but it’s also just as gratifying seeing our interns going to the next level,” says Rosselli. “Every year I say, ‘how do we make our team better and how do we make our staff better?’ One doesn’t run without the other.
“There’s two teams here.”
The owner/GM encourages interns to sit in with him on sponsorship meetings. They also get to rotate through different jobs such as ticket sales, retail and press box operations. They see the coordination between the PA announcer and on-field announcer.
“It’s like an orchestra going on,” says Rosselli.
Many Rex interns have gone on to serve in professional or college sports positions and not just in baseball.
Austin Bishop went from the Rex to the NBA’s Detroit Pistons to the University of Illinois and is now Assistant Manager of Athletic Ticketing at ISU.
Chris Poindexter was Communications Assistant and Intern Supervisor for the Rex and went on to become Video Production and Social Media Manager with the Bowling Green Hot Rods, High-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I didn’t get where I’m at without help,” says Rosselli. “So it’s sort of paying it forward. I can help somebody else do that they want to do.”
Beginning in 2016, Rosselli was president of the Prospect League for five years.
In that role, he dealt with disciplinary matters and led league meetings. He brought in an outside contractor to provide certified NCAA umpires and found vendors for league uniforms and baseballs.
“I always thought in order for this league to grow we should all look to be in the black (at the end of the fiscal year) and not some teams in the red,” says Rosselli. “That was more of an attraction to outside investors.
“Lowering the operational costs would help us all.”
The Prospect League — with David Brauer as commissioner — will field 17 teams in seven states in 2023. Opening Day for a 58-game slate is to begin May 31.
Additions include the Jackson (Tenn.) Rockabillys and an as-yet-to-be-branded club in Marion, Ill., once a member of the independent professional Frontier League. Finalists for the Marion team name include Angry Beavers, Fungi, Monkey Rats, Swamp Foxes and Thrillbillies.
For the better part 10 years, Rosselli has been working to get a new stadium for the Rex — something similar to Kokomo (Ind.) Municipal Stadium.
Rosselli said Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett was in favor, but the Terre Haute Convention Center came first.
Rosselli says he would like to see a multi-sport complex on the east side of town. Add to that housing and retail spaces.
“It’s about a $75 million project,” says Rosselli. “You’ve got to have a lot of ground — at least 150 acres.
“I don’t want to be part of something done halfway. Let’s do it right. We’ve got to be able to grow it.”
In August 2022, the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board approved the start of a process for a feasibility study for a sports and water complex.
In November 2022, the CIB approved Brownsburg-based PROS Consulting Inc., to conduct that study.