Baseball has been a mainstay in the East Texas community since the early 1900s with professional teams making stints here and there over the years including the 1950s Tyler Trojans and the 1990s Tyler Wildcatters. It is through another one of these teams, the 2001 Tyler Roughnecks, that East Texas is connected to an unlikely source…..the Atlanta Braves.
The Wildcatters left Tyler, TX for Lafayette, LA at the end of the 1997 season leaving a trail of debt behind them which made the community slightly reluctant to bring in another professional baseball team. However, the idea of bringing a new team in came about in late 2000-early 2001. According to an article by Tyler Morning Telegraph sports editor Phil Hicks, the Tyler team joined the All-American Association in 2001. The league commissioner was former Phillies farmhand Bobby Bragan. Bragan played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers and managed the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, and Atlanta Braves before becoming president of the Texas League and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues en route to leading the All-American Association.
The team held a fan contest to name the team, according to an article by Tyler Morning Telegraph writer Joe Buie. The winning name was the Tyler Roughnecks as an homage to the oil and gas industries that call East Texas home. (Side note: There is also a summer college league team located in Kilgore called the East Texas Pumpjacks.) During the same press conference, it was announced that Steve Maddock would be the team’s manager. At that point in his career, Maddock had been with 14 different minor league teams as either a player or coach. The team’s outfield and bench coach was Sean Collins who had played in Tyler as part of the Wildcatters during the 1997 season and had played in the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers farm systems.
The team had open tryouts in April of 2001 and carried 23 players to face teams like the Albany, GA Alligators, the Montgomery Wings, the Fort Worth Cats, and the Tennessee Tomahawks. The Roughnecks played 72 games over the course of 77 games and had some standout players that season. Ace starter Hector Ramirez pitched 30 games with the Milwaukee Brewers before finding his way to Tyler. Second baseman Tony Jaramillo is the son of former Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and and former Cleveland Indian Nolan Lane was the designated hitter. And Tommy John III rounded out the list of notables getting the first home win for the Roughnecks that season with 5.1 innings of work.
Despite a successful season, the All-American Association folded after the 2001 season and the Roughnecks moved to Jackson, MS and became the Jackson Senators. According to Baseball Reference, the Senators played as part of the Central League until 2005 when the league folded. At the time, the Senators’ ownership group also owned a minor league baseball team based out of Greenville, SC and they weren’t happy with the condition of Greenville Municipal Stadium and couldn’t reach an agreement with the Greenville County Council for a new ballpark. Since there was no longer a team in the Jackson area, the owners decided to move the team from Greenville to Pearl, MS. That team became the Mississippi Braves, the Double-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have played at Trustmark Park since the move in 2005.
Many people say the baseball world is small and seeing how communities are connected through the national pastime is just one example.