By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The love affair started the way most do, innocently and as a kid. Rossell lived in Quincy, Wisconsin. The Cubs had a Single A affiliate there. Vida Blue passed through, a quick stop on his way to stardom. Rossell thought Vida Blue was great. Rossell thought Billy North was a god.
The ballpark was just around the corner from his boyhood home, and Rossell's older brother, Rob, used to take him on the regular. Those were the days, he says, a nostalgia-rich time when the sun bathed everything in a lion-colored glow. Rossell would spit sunflower seeds or chew gum and watch, wide-eyed, from just outside the left-field wall. That's where North played. North, an average hitter, wasn't exceptional except in the hold he had on young Rossell. To a stocky 12-year-old, numbers simply weren't important.
"Nah, Billy was my buddy," Rossell, 42, remembers fondly. Rossell isn't much taller now than he was then, about 5-foot-8 with a mostly slender frame that supports the moderate belly worthy of a bar owner. "I used to poke around there so much that Billy started remembering me. Eventually, he let me play catch with him. Man, that was so cool for a kid. All those guys were just so great to us. They would talk to us and sign autographs--real down to earth. Billy would ask me, 'OK, did you bring the gum today?'
"I would bring my friends to the park and tell them, 'See that guy, he's my friend,' and point to Billy. They said, 'No he isn't,' and they didn't believe me at first. Then he'd talk to me or play catch in between innings--I'd get to throw with him sometimes instead of the other players--and my friends just couldn't believe it. I think I still have one of his home run balls. Hell, that was so cool."
Didn't stay that way. Age changes all. Rossell left Quincy when he was 24. Set out for Dallas to meet up with Rob, find work, make a go of it. Sounded great--his brother talked it up some, and it didn't take much to sell Rossell on the idea. Then his brother, in what can only be described as a unique brand of fraternal love, moved away three months later.
"He got a job in Atlanta," Rossell laughs. "He left me."
Rossell started waiting tables at Andrews, a little bar/restaurant off McKinney and Hall. That's where he met Chitwood, who, like himself, was a waiter and more concerned with grabbing a beer or chasing tail than anything so serious, or far-fetched, as running a baseball team. They stayed in touch. Rossell's daughters think of Chitwood as one of the family. They call him Chuck.
"He's my best friend," Chitwood says. "I've known him for 18 years. Damn, that's a long time. When I was putting the Roughnecks operations together, I knew I wanted him to be part of it."
Chitwood just didn't know in what function. Initially, the Roughnecks brought Chitwood in to do public relations and marketing, some play-by-play and newspaper stories, too. All areas in which he was well-versed--he was a stringer covering minor-league ball in Shreveport, Louisiana, for a time and did some PA announcing there. To some degree, he's more interested in those jobs than anything else, which is fortunate considering he still does all that, serving as broadcast director, director of media relations and general manager. Multitasking is inevitable in the bush.
In planning a baseball team from the embryonic stage, Chitwood realized something: He knew how to market a team or cover a team, but he didn't necessarily know how to run a team, which is where Rossell entered. He had business acumen, and if running the Landing wasn't running a minor-league club, well, how much different could it be?
"When I told him [about the assistant G.M. gig], I don't think he believed me," Chitwood recalls. Unlike his friend, who is clean-shaven, Chitwood's bespectacled face is outlined in a thin beard, which is gray in spots and hides freckles in others. "I got right to the point. I told him I needed him but that it would be five months of ball-busting work. I didn't lie to him--hell no. But I still don't think he believed me at first."
Driving along, probably on his way to the Landing or to pick up his children--this story has done Rossell a great disservice by not mentioning the kids at length until now; he is a proud father of beautiful twin girls, 11-year-olds Gabrielle and Eastin, and, like a proud father, he has a tough time going long stretches without talking to or about them--Rossell got a call from Chitwood extending the offer to come aboard. Rossell had to pull over.
"I told him he better not be messing with me," Rossell says. "I made him tell me a few times because I wasn't sure I got it right."
It's been three months since the genesis of the Tyler Roughnecks--or, for most sports franchises, roughly the amount of time required to order stationery and, if they're diligent and attentive, toilet paper. That's three months from front office to field level, excluding manager Steve Maddock, who was hired five months ago in order to procure "extra" scouting time. Nothing like slow and steady.