By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
As excited as he was about the proposition, Rossell didn't accept it at first--he talked it over with the girls and with his ex-wife, Marci, with whom he's still close--but, once he did, he dove headlong into a business he knew exclusively from television and the backs of old, fading baseball cards. (He had a Mickey Mantle rookie. It was his favorite. But, like most kids, affection for his cards didn't guarantee their safety, and they eventually vanished.)
From ground zero, from the moment he met the others and they began assembling office furniture at team "headquarters" in a nondescript building a mile or so from the ballpark, things progressed at a feverish pace. In order to accomplish everything that needed to be done by the home opener, each member of the front office--a core group of five, Chitwood and Rossell included, make up the workforce--had to do more than what his job title might otherwise suggest. Rossell, in addition to his duties as assistant G.M. and stadium operator, hung concession signs and swept trash from the concrete floor of Mike Carter Field just hours before the opener with the Blue Marlins. As it stands, there are no plans to supplement his lengthy title with the words "janitor" or "maintenance." (The "cleanup crew," from the Anderson Center, a group that helps find work for the mentally ill, was late. Not so with the "grounds crew," a chain gang on loan from the county jail. A few weeks earlier, they had proved their mettle by helping install rows of new seats.) Rossell also was sent on a frantic search for the Roughneck game hats, which had been misplaced and were nowhere to be found 10 minutes before the first pitch. He managed to locate them in time--unattended, outside the main concession stand, a few inches from the men's bathroom.
Luckily, Rossell is not alone. Not by any stretch. If he is constantly on the go, and he is, then Deb Forbis and Pamela "Blue" Monday are right behind, in constant, mesmerizing motion. Forbis serves as ticket sales director, office manager and den mother to players and ignorant reporters alike. Monday, forever known as Blue to her friends, is officially in charge of community relations and promotions, though her work between innings with games like "Frisbee throw" and "Who wants to be a Turkish millionaire" is a living tribute to vaudevillians. David McClendon, assistant director of media relations and troubleshooter, is another Roughneck charge. He plays straight man to Forbis and Monday, who have this engaging way of laughing and smiling without coming up for air, and always at the exact moment when everyone else would be tucked away in the bell tower with a sniper rifle and an armory of hollow-points.
Earlier in the morning, eight or so hours before meeting the Blue Marlins and just after completing a 13-hour bus trip from Albany, the players filed in, tired and hungry and cranky, and instantly created one of those maddening situations for Forbis, who, bless her, was the only one in the office available and sane enough to help. The players meant well, but they were in a hurry to get to their apartments and could they please have the keys and directions posthaste? (None of them had been in town long enough to unpack their things and see their new places, which, they would later learn, were completely barren.)
"Those poor guys," Forbis says sweetly, even after dealing with one particularly not-so-polite player and while attempting fruitlessly to eat a Subway sandwich her husband had brought her hours ago. "They have to play later, and they haven't even unpacked. I hope..."
The phone rang then, a shrill and commanding ring, so she scurried off with purpose, looking shockingly composed, and buoyant, considering they'd all been putting in 15-hour days for longer than anyone could remember.
Mike Carter Field, a WPA project created from red brick and iron in 1938, is relatively quiet. Some Roughnecks long toss down the right-field line, spitting tobacco juice and bullshitting. The thwack of bats against batting-practice balls fights for aural dominance with the PA system, which is softly playing some song or another. Billy Joel, maybe? The air smells like summer: freshly cut grass and hot dogs. You can buy the latter here for $1.50, cheap and large. A mere $4 will get you a general admission ticket, and a big spender with $9, the most expensive seat in the house, will be directed by a pretty lady usher to field level behind home plate or one of the dugouts.
During the game to come, concessionaires will walk around hollering "peanuts" or "soda." The rest of the menu is either standard (hamburgers, barbecue sandwiches, nachos, popcorn and ice cream) or frightening (sausage on a stick), though you can't buy beer. Tyler is a dry county, so the stadium taps stay parched, which must be in direct violation of the Constitution. How you watch a baseball game without a brew or nine is a puzzle that may never be solved and one of the few burdens Roughneck fans are forced to endure.