BY STEVE KRAH
Dan Spiceland started out as the man that got Indiana State University’s baseball team to and from its games.
But he soon became much more and in a decade of transporting the Sycamores the man they call “Dan-O” has made many meaningful relationships while having a lot of fun.
“He’s the grandpa of this team,” says Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs of Spiceland. “He’s just a great person with a great outlook on life. That’s why it’s great to have him around.
“He picks these guys up on the bad days and it’s really nice to see. Every team should have a grandfather in the dugout. He talks to these guys about life and a lot of things around this game. He’s invaluable to our club.”
At 52, Spiceland retired after 35 years from Ford Motor Company, where he was in plan engineering and a millwright by trade. He went to Ford a week after graduating from Taylor (Mich.) High School and received further education at Henry Ford Community College (where he also played baseball) and Northwood University with the help of his employer.
“Ford was very good to me and my family,” says Spiceland. “I really never thought I would work again.”
Spiceland and wife, Liz, live near Poland, Ind., and worship at the North Meridian Street Church of Christ in Brazil, Ind. The couple moved from Indianapolis and became a regular with the congregation in 2003.
Dan is one of the elders at North Meridian and was told by one of the members and Terre Haute-based Turner Motor Coaches driver, Robert Hostetler, that the company was in need of drivers.
“Robert was always putting a bug in my ear,” says Spiceland of Hostetler. “I told him out of friendship with you I’ll go down and take a look at it.”
Spiceland had never driven a bus in his life, but showed an aptitude for its right away and was hired.
He began by taking some tour groups on shorter trips.
In 2010, the ISU baseball team was getting ready to go on its first excursion of the season from Terre Haute to Shreveport, La.
The law allows motor coach drivers to be behind the wheel for 10 hours a day and then shut down for eight. This sometimes necessitates a relay system with one driver taking over for the other at a given point along the route.
Two days before the trip, the driver that was going to take the team from Sikeston, Mo., to Shreveport for four days asked to trade places with Spiceland, who was going to drive the first leg from Terre Haute and hand off the team in Missouri.
“I drove them down to Shreveport and we had a great series,” says Spiceland. “We won all the games there against Texas Southern.”
On the way back to the relay point, then-Sycamores head coach Rick Heller made it known how much he appreciated Spiceland. The coach told the driver he wanted him to be the team’s full-time transporter, always taking them on the long end of trips if a relay was involved.
Heller contacted Turner and Spiceland took on the ISU baseball team as part of his driving duties, which now also includes the Indiana State women’s soccer team in the fall and tours of all kinds.
“I’m a people person,” says Spiceland. “I like to meet people. I like to reach out to them any way that I can.
“I’ve made a lot of friends driving this motor coach. I can’t say enough about how much fun it is.”
Getting to drive for and developing a bond with the baseball team came as a a twist of fate when the other driver wanted to swap.
Spiceland drove for Heller for four years. When Heller left to become head coach at the University of Iowa, Hannahs took over the reins of the Sycamores.
“Mitch and myself, we have a great relationship,” says Spiceland. “About four years ago, Mitch took me aside and said, ‘I want to talk to you. You have such a great rapport with the team. You would be much more valuable to me to be in the dugout than to be up in the stands cheering.’”
Donning a uniform and cap, Spiceland spends games in the ISU dugout.
“That makes me feel like a kid again,” says Spiceland. “I’m in the dugout and like a spark plug.”
If a player has a bad at-bat or shaky inning on the mound, Spiceland will approach them and offer words of encouragement.
“I go over to him and it’s authentic — it’s not fake — but I’ll stroke their ego,” says Spiceland. “I try to build up their self-esteem.
“I think of them as my sons.”
Dan and Liz have two biological sons — Dan (43) in Huntsville, Ala., and Frank (40) in Findlay, Ohio, and six grandchildren.
“I’ve been through this before when my sons were this age,” says Spiceland. “There’s peer pressure. These guys have challenges in their lives.
“It’s a relationship that pulls at my heart strings. In four years, I was able to have a small smidgeon in their lives.
“More than a driver, I try to mentor these guys.”
With the baseball team alone, Spiceland averages about 7,000 miles a year.
Dan-O and the team spend a great deal of time together between the bus, baseball stadiums, hotels and restaurants. Many times, players invite him to breakfast to discuss some matters.
“I always accommodate them,” says Spiceland. “We talk about a lot of things. They can bounce things off of me. They know it’s not going to go any farther.
“We really love each other. We can communicate with each other. We just bond with each other.”
When the schedule allows, Spiceland finds a church on the road and players have been known to come along.
“it’s an opportunity for me to share my faith with people,” says Spiceland. “That’s an important thing.”
Earlier this season, Spiceland took the team to the University of Michigan, an experienced he thoroughly enjoyed with his Wolverine State roots.
Indiana State (34-11) is coming off a three-game Missouri Valley Conference series against Illinois State in Normal, Ill. Dan-O and Liz celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary Saturday, May 4, and the Sycamores won Saturday and Sunday to takes 2-of-3 from the Redbirds.
The next trip is this Friday through Sunday at Dallas Baptist. Since it will be Finals Week, players can’t leave campus until Thursday. The plan calls for the team to fly down that night with Spiceland leaving Wednesday and meeting the team in Texas.
After a home series May 16-18, Indiana State goes back to Normal for the MVC Tournament, which is slated for May 21-25.
NCAA Regionals are May 31-June 3 at campus sites with Super Regionals June 7-10 at campus sites and the College World Series June 15-29 in Omaha, Neb.
Whenever the last trip of the season comes for Spiceland and the Sycamores, he will stand at the front of the bus and tell them the same thing he tells each team.
“Guys, this is the last ride,” says Spiceland. “We will never ever be together again as this group of men.”
As the senior disembark in Terre Haute, the seniors have real tears in their eyes and they give Spiceland a hug.
“They say, Dan-O, we may never see you again,” says Spiceland. “But you’ve been like a dad or like a grandpa to us and we’ll never forget that.”
Indiana State University baseball head coach says of team bus driver and mentor, Dan Spiceland: “Every team should have a grandfather in the dugout.” (Indiana State University Photo)
Dan Spiceland aka “Dan-O” has been a bus driver and mentor for the Indiana State University baseball team since 2010. He is employed by Terre Haute-based Turner Motor Coaches. (Steve Krah Photo)