As many communities are struggling to climb out of the recession, Terre Haute’s economy is getting a little boost from its new baseball team. It’s a clear evening in Terre Haute and the 7 p.m. sun slants into the ballpark casting long shadows. Fans sporting hats and jerseys of Terre Haute’s new baseball team, the Rex, fill the revamped and renamed Bob Warn Stadium. It is a scene full of hope – the college-age ballplayers in the Prospect League use wooden bats like their major league idols and team officials beam as newly minted Rex fans like Mark Daedy enjoy take in a ballgame with their families.
“Well we’ve got two kids, one with a hamburger and a Rex hat on, the other one’s got a Rex shirt on, eating a hot dog with Skittles, and I got a beer and a hot dog and a Rex hat,” Daedy said. “And my other son who’s up in the stands has a Rex- they’ve all got Rex hats and jerseys. We’ve been t o about 8 games, 9 games.”
Now think about that attendance in terms of economic development: $3 for each hamburger, $4 for a pair of ho t dogs, $3 for a king-sized candy, and $5 per beer, plus admission to the park — $5 for an adult and $1 for a child. Daedy said it is a good deal compared to other kinds of family entertainment, but over the course of a season, the concessions add up. Rex General Manager Roland Shelton said it is that affordability he hopes continues to draw people to games, especially with many prospective fans of the Prospect League tightening their belts during the recession.
“In terms of tourism dollars, we average about 700 to 800 people a game,” Shelton said. “And that geographical range of those customers are not just in Vigo County but also outside Vigo County.”
Bringing more people to the area is exactly what Terre Haute Economic Development Corporation Director Steve Witt said the city needs.
“Any draw you have to a community is going to expose other assets of the community to folks coming to visit,” Witt said. “So someone you may be in town for a game may drive by and say, ‘Hey, there’s the new Terre Haute Children’s Museum and we need to make a return trip and come and check that out.’”
Although so far the team is successfully drawing crowds, Witt says the challenge will be sustaining that momentum. Even though the franchise has exceeded expectations in terms of revenue, Shelton said he’s still working hard to cultivate fans and keep them coming to games. No person and no ticket price are too small and Shelton tries to take a personal interest in reaching out to individuals. For example: after finding out a mother and her ten-year-old son had driven three hours to attend a game, Shelton gave the son a tour of the locker room and dugout and introduced him to the players. Since then, the pair has come back to Terre Haute three more times. Rex Head Coach Brian Dorsett said those efforts are paying off.
“The fans in general are just really happy,” Dorsett said. “They feel like Terre Haute is progressing and that something good is happening. I think once the community at large gets more involved and sees the benefit I think we’ll see more cities really gravitating towards going after franchises because it’s a business too from the owner’s side of the equation- they have to make it successful.”
Shelton said the team is benefiting from some otherwise unfortunate sports news for the city. The Rex started playing just when Indianapolis Colts announced they were moving their summer training camp out of Terre Haute, leaving the young ballplayers to fill some of the void left by the departed football team. Sure enough, fans are turning up in all shapes and sizes sporting Rex merchandise. And of course, that team spirit translates into dollars.