SHERIDAN — Nearly every game day at Thorne-Rider Stadium, a bus with a crisp decal showing off its team’s colors sits just outside the ballpark. Whomever the Troopers host, one thing remains constant — the opposing team travels in style.
That notion hasn’t rung true, however, when Sheridan hits the road — until now.
The Troopers took their new team bus on its first road trip to Omaha this week, a welcomed sight, or seat, for everyone involved.
“It’s pretty nice,” Sheridan’s Ayden Roush said. “… Instead of rolling up in those vans, everyone will see us and be like, ‘Wow.’ We’ll be just like everybody else now. We can really join the party.”
For years the Troopers have juggled lineup cards, starting rotations and defensive strategies to place themselves in the best position to win. They did all that with a revolving door of transportation options from team vans to borrowed vehicles from the Sheridan Recreation District to rented cars.
Mike McCafferty — the volunteer athletic director for Sheridan American Legion Baseball — saw a need. The former coach met with a group of parents and the board of directors to discuss the feasibility of purchasing a better way for the Troopers to travel.
In the past, coaches and bus drivers would drive multiple vehicles to and from a road game that fell within a two-hour radius. If the destination totaled more than four hours round trip, the Troopers would likely charter a bus.
The Sheridan American Legion Baseball board and parents, first and foremost, wanted a more safe means of travel for the players. They also wanted one vehicle with its sole purpose of getting the team from point A to point B. Those preferences, however, weren’t free.
Operating costs for Sheridan American Legion Baseball run around $105,000 each year. Most of that goes toward travel — not only vehicles and drivers, but lodging, as well. To raise money, the Troopers sell yearly photos and beverages at the rodeo and have field sponsorships. They sold 300 photos this year at $150 per photo and have about $45,000 in field sponsorship. The Troopers also receive smaller contributions from companies and private parties to help cover yearly operational fees.
But for the dream of a team bus to gain traction, more people had to step up to the theoretical plate. The Edward J. Redle Memorial Foundation and Louis W. Horvath Foundation each gave $4,000 to get the bus fund started. Then — with the help of financing from First Interstate Bank — the players’ parents set up a three-year plan in which pledges will total $60,000.
“I was astounded by the support of the parents,” McCafferty said. “… I think it’s a tribute to the support that this program gets and has gotten over the years from all of the businesses in town and the people who support baseball. It’s really incredible. I think the parents recognized that and said, ‘It’s our turn to step up, and we need to take care of this for the safety of our kids, and it’s something we really feel strongly about.’”
The parents’ three-year plan, coupled with the foundation contributions and the trade-in value of the team vans, will pay for the vehicle the Troopers loaded up Tuesday for their long trip to Nebraska.
The $66,000, 26-passenger bus is a Ford F550 bought gently used from Colorado Davey Coach Sales in Sedalia, Colorado. The players were noticeably excited about the new set of wheels, as were the coaches.
“It gives us an opportunity to rest and focus on things we need to work on and change,” Sheridan head coach Ben Phillips said.
Bus drivers from Sheridan County School District Nos. 1 and 2 will operate the vehicle that will transport Sheridan baseball around the region.
“It’s fantastic,” McCafferty said. “It’s a really nice diesel. I think it has plenty of power to get us where we need to be. In terms of safety, I think it’s going to be a great vehicle for us. It really just makes good sense for us.
“Those players are going to be riding in style.”