By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Rain falls intermittently, but they get the game in, and what a game. In the top of the first, little leaguers escort the Roughnecks to their positions for good luck. It works. The first Roughneck batter to ever come to the plate in Carter Field, outfielder Jose Colon--a native New Yorker who'd never made it higher than A-ball--smashes the first Blue Marlins pitch deep to center and over the 12-foot-high green wall that lines the field's perimeter. It gets better. Tyler gobbles grounders and lines more hits. Baton Rouge stumbles and commits errors. It's hardly fair. The good guys get the win, 12-7, which delights the mascot--a fuzzy orange monstrosity that's a disturbing combination of one of the Village People and Animal from the Muppets.
A local television station, KLTV, had a crew here to capture it all. The station will show clips on tonight's local news. Others caught the action on the radio, listening to reports crackle over KZEY-AM 690. The rest, about a thousand folks, came in person to see the Roughnecks climb to a game above .500 (they went 3-3 on that season-opening road trip). But it's early yet--this was only game seven of 72--and no one appears to be planning a parade. One Tyler native, who's nearly hoarse from yelling, thinks it's wonderful to have baseball back. Wonderful and worrisome. "I'm not sure this town will support them," she says. "I hope so, but I'm not so sure."
They're pondering the same question in Baton Rouge and Fort Worth and Albany and other minor-league towns. Some pull it off. The rest disappear into baseball's footnotes.
Rossell and the troops won't admit it, but they've thought about each scenario and which fate awaits the club. After all they've invested emotionally, after all the man-hours, how could they not? Somewhere in their memory, the WildCatters linger as admonition--not that they let the concern consume them. Too much work to do, too many hot dogs to order or tickets to sell or promotions to organize for anything so self-indulgent as pity or fear. Besides, they'll tell you, this is too much of a hoot to allow anxiety to whittle away their time. And the Roughnecks majority ownership, the same group that controls the Fort Worth team, has already committed to next year and has talked openly with the league about expansion.
"I'm not sure what will happen, but I think we'll be OK," Rossell says sometime before midnight, after a splendid, well-received postgame fireworks display. His feet are sore from running around all day, and small bags are forming under his eyes. Originally, Rossell said this was a one-time deal, that he'd help out this season, revel in the moment and then retire to more meaningful pursuits, like vacations with his daughters. Now, he's not so sure. It's all so seductive, so addictive. Instant, lasting euphoria--a type of baseball mainline.
"I mean, I don't know," he says. "I could see myself staying. I don't know. It's definitely a possibility. It would be hard to give up. Look at how great this is. I think it's going really well. But if I don't stay, look at how lucky I've been--some of the things I've walked into. I've gotten to live two dreams: my bar and baseball."