(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues Baseball.com)
(This interview was printed in our second book The Bus Leagues Experience Volume 2, currently available on Amazon for only $8.)
Here at Bus Leagues Baseball we take pride in our interviews. We’ve interviewed players, administrators, and front office personnel. But we’ve never interviewed someone who actually drove a bus. It goes without saying, but bus drivers are the backbone of the bus leagues.
During a recent series in Tampa, I caught up with Mr. James Dively of Travelynx, the company that drives the Brevard County Manatees.
Bus Leagues Baseball: You are the bus driver for the Manatees, correct?
James Dively: Yes, I’ve been driving them the whole year.
BLB: Is this your first year?
BLB: How did you get this position?
JD: They had another fellow who couldn’t afford to be on the road that much with his family ties, so I just inherited the position. Plus, I do all the collegiate athletics too, so it just kinda blended in.
BLB: Is that just the colleges in the Melbourne/Viera area?
JD: No. I do the University of Stetson, sometimes we do UCF (University of Central Florida), Brevard Community College, there’s quite a few. Daytona State College.
BLB: Wow. And this is all for one company?
JD: Yes, Travelynx. We have special buses, they are modified with airplane seats, we have wi-fi on there for them, and we have 110 volt receptacles so they can charge their phones and all that stuff. It’s designed for them.
BLB: You said this is your first year driving the Manatees. So how long have you been driving total?
JD: Seven years.
BLB: What made you get into driving buses in the first place?
JD: I’ve retired three times. I was in the military for 20 years, then I put 20 years in with Westinghouse, then I got a little bored looking for something else to, so I got into this.
BLB: How many miles do you think you’ve put on?
JD: Millions? I don’t know. I lost count.
BLB: What is your normal day, especially when the team is on the road?
JD: We’ll leave Brevard and go to the hotel. So normally, if we have a 7:00 game, we’ll get to the hotel around noon. We let the guys relax, then they board the bus at about 3:30 and we bring them to the stadium. Once they are at the stadium, they do their stretching and all that stuff for a 7:00 game.
Basically, when I bring them to the stadium the game doesn’t start until 7, it’s more or less free time because one, it’s kinda hot to stand around and watch them stretch. So I’ll typically go back to the hotel, or go to Wal-Mart or the mall or something. Or even a movie maybe. Then I’ll come back in the second or third inning usually when it cools down a bit and watch the rest of the game.
Afterwards, usually they go back to the hotel, but sometimes they want to stop at a restaurant. And that’s pretty much it.
BLB: You are on the road for every Manatees game, so that’s 60-70 so games, right?
JD: I don’t have my schedule, but that’s probably pretty close. This is the last big trip. We have been on the road seven days, Clearwater for three, and four here in Tampa. Next week we have three commute days, we drive up to Daytona for the game and come home. And then that’s the end of the season.
BLB: What do you do when the team has a long road stretch? What do you do when you are already in town?
JD: I have to bring them to the park and back to the hotel. So I’ll usually catch the last half of the game, maybe from the second or third inning. When it cools down a bit. Then we go back to the hotel and start it over the next day.
BLB: Are you a big baseball fan?
JD: I’ve grown to be. I’m a Pittsburgh Steeler fan. I kinda grew into baseball.
BLB: How does minor league baseball driving differ from driving around the college teams? Are the people different?
JD: Well, there are some tough questions there. These guys, it takes a little while to get to know them. That was part of the first bus driver’s problem. He couldn’t connect with them. Once you get to be friends with one or two, by the time the season’s over you know everybody by their first name and they know you by first name and you know each other pretty well.
BLB: Have you had any incidents, accidents, or exciting stories along the way this year?
JD: There was one story, it’s kinda colorful. One of the guys autographed one of the girls, he physically autographed her. She was a very attractive lady, and I am not going to tell you where he autographed her.
It turns out, she was an umpire’s girlfriend. How bad is that? That was kinda exciting for a while. They figured he would have a zero batting average. I guess it was all a good joke.
Nothing much happens. They get a few sore muscles, pack them in ice, and they are back there the next day.
BLB: Do you have more of an appreciation for the players than you had before you started?
JD: Absolutely. They are doing this almost seven days a week all summer long. I don’t they get but a day off every two weeks. It’s gotta take a grind on them. But they are really easy to work with.
BLB: Is driving a team one of those jobs people seem to envy?
JD: Well, to be truthful, not really. Once I got it, one of the advantages is that I know what my schedule is. It’s black and white. I know when I can schedule personal things and when I can’t. So there is that advantage. Some people don’t like to stay overnight because of family situations and family obligations. Whereas my children are both grown and I don’t have to deal with that.
BLB: So your plan after the baseball season is to start driving the college teams?
JD: I’m already driving the Stetson girls soccer team. They have a good schedule. They play out of state. They go to North Carolina and Nashville.
Driving with these guys (the Manatees) there is a plus too, it’s an easy drive. You don’t have to drive any farther than Jupiter to the south or going west any farther than Clearwater. That’s a 2.5 hour drive max. Whereas if I get the other jobs, I have to drive 10 hours up to Nashville. And then sometimes, when those girls get there, they want to go eat or they want to go somewhere. And I am already past my limit for driving hours.
BLB: Do you get paid by hour?
JD: No. I get paid by the day, but the Department of Transportation limits you on how long you can be on the road. So if you drive 10 hours up to Nashville, you are out of hours. Sometimes they have a problem with that.
BLB: How do you stay awake when you are driving 10 hours? That’s a long haul.
JD: It is. Daytime driving is much easier than nighttime driving. I don’t seem to get sleepy. Nighttime driving is a bit trickier. I tend to eat real light; stop every two and half hours to find a rest area, drench myself in cold water and walk around; and maybe do an energy shot for the heck of it. But you have to do that. If you try to stay awake for 10 hours you’ll wipe out.
BLB: What is your favorite Florida State League venue or city to visit?
JD: With the team? I would have to say Clearwater. There is a lot to do there. Here (Tampa) there is a lot to do, but it’s not bus friendly. At the end of the night, say you are back in the hotel by 10, where can you take a bus?
BLB: There are a lot of places by the Tampa airport, right?
JD: Well, we are staying in the Sheridan and they have a shuttle bus that will take you anywhere in the local area. It will take you to restaurants, to the mall, to Wal-Mart. So that’s a good situation.
BLB: That takes the driving off of you, right?
JD: Exactly, and it’s good for them too because they want to go to dinner, they want to go to lunch, they want to go to the places guys go, you know.
BLB: Are you held to the teams curfews as well?
JD: No, not really. I don’t even know what the team curfew is. I don’t think that it is that rigid. A lot of guys bring their fishing poles and they will go fishing late at night or early in the morning. I lot of them like to fish.
BLB: You learn a lot about the players as well, right? What they like to do?
JD: Oh sure, some of them like to go fishing. Some of them like to play blackjack at the casinos. Some of them like to play poker. And some of them, their girlfriends come too. Not on the bus, but they will follow the bus down. I have a procession behind me sometimes.
BLB: So no one else is allowed on the bus besides the staff and the players?
JD: No. I think that is an insurance issue with the league, I don’t know. Makes sense though.
BLB: Are you a frequent visitor to Space Coast Stadium for games?
JD: Well, that’s where we pick them up, but yeah, I’ve been there a few times.
BLB: You’ve become a fan of the Manatees now, right? Is there any one player you would say is your favorite, either due to his personality or because you enjoy watching him?
JD: Scooter (Gennett) is pretty interesting. He is a little guy, but he gets a lot of base hits.
BLB: Any opposing player catch your eye?
JD: Not really. I don’t follow them that closely. Unless they get a hold of one and knock it out of the park.
BLB: So you said Clearwater is the best park for you to visit, but what is the best to see a game environment-wise?
JD: I think the ballparks in Jupiter and St. Lucie are nice. They are a little more in the country. They are a little bit easier to navigate. I think they are a little greener, it seems like.
BLB: Space Coast Stadium isn’t bad, is it?
JD: No, it’s not. This place here in Tampa isn’t bad either. The hardest part is parking at the hotel. It’s tough. You can’t go under the awning because it’s too low. That means you can’t make the loop around. And if you pull in, then you have to back out on to the highway. And that’s not cool.
In the daytime, I don’t mind. I can make six or seven swings and get turned around. But at night, it’s tough. Daytime driving is so much easier. Sometimes they want to go eat at Steak’n’Shake or something and that can be tough if there are any low trees or parked cars on the side of the road.
BLB: How tough is it overall to drive a bus that size?
JD: It’s not that bad on the highway. On the highway, it’s just like driving a big car. But when you start getting into parking lots, and start getting into real heavy city traffic, you have to be one step ahead of what’s going to happen next. You can’t get yourself down any cul-de-sacs or anything.
BLB: How many different types of buses do you drive?
JD: We have about six different buses. As a matter of fact, we will be getting 25 new ones in a couple of weeks.
BLB: Is the company here in Florida?
JD: Used to be. They sold out to a company in Argentina. This company has a concept of setting up something similar to Greyhound, except high end. So far they have a route that goes from Miami up the turnpike to Orlando, up to Jacksonville then to Atlanta to Washington DC and then to New York. Another one goes from Orlando to Tallahassee to I think Atlanta. It makes the loop. I have stayed away from that because that’s away from home a lot.
BLB: What is your most challenging city? You mentioned Nashville and Atlanta, are they difficult?
JD: Atlanta is easy. If you go where we go to Kennesaw, Georgia, it’s just outside of Atlanta. There are a couple of colleges out there that Stetson plays. They have a bus lane, you can fly 70 miles an hour right through the middle of Atlanta.
BLB: So you mention you would do this one more year. What’s after that?
JD: I am probably going to retire after that. The last of my children will be out of college.
BLB: Then what?
JD: I don’t know.
BLB: Do you hear the players talk about who is moving up and who is moving down?
JD: Yeah, they talk about that all the time.
BLB: Do you ever feel bad for a player who doesn’t make it?
JD: Well, yeah, they cut one of them. We were out on the field somewhere, I think it was Dunedin, and they cut a guy. It really upset him. He had big ol’ tears rolling down his eyes. All the guys were giving him a hug. That’s tough. I guess they had someone who was injured and came back. So they had to make a hole.
BLB: With the college teams you are not going to see that.
JD: With the college teams, I see them from their freshman year all the way until they graduate and they are gone. I see them grow.
BLB: So which do you prefer driving: the minor leaguers or the college teams?
JD: It’s tough to pick one over the other. There are advantages to both.
BLB: Do you have a favorite restaurant on the road? I know it is mostly their choice, but what is your favorite?
JD: Well, they talk about the Minor League Steakhouse all the time. Are you familiar with that?
JD: It’s McDonalds. It’s their joke. We always get a laugh out of that.
We would like to thank Mr. Dively for his time.