Jackie Lawrence is on a mission.
As of Thursday, she has posed for pictures with seven of the eight team bus drivers for the 2019 College World Series (CWS), which runs through the middle of next week in Omaha, Nebraska.
If Jackie goes eight for eight this year, she will have missed taking pictures with only three out of 40 CWS drivers in the past five years, which is how long she has been on this particular mission.
She takes photos with each of the drivers and posts the photos, along with interesting information about each, on her Facebook page.
Jackie (Schultz) Lawrence is a 1982 Denison High School graduate.
Her job as an administrative assistant in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Creighton University in Omaha puts her on the doorstep of the CWS.
The CWS is played at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, which is the home field of the Creighton Bluejays baseball team.
Jackie’s Annual College World Series Bus Driver Photo Tour, as she calls it, grew out of an activity in which she and her son, Isaac, participated when he was young.
“We’ve had College World Series season tickets for about 15 years,” she said. “When Isaac was younger we used to go watch the (CWS team) practices and then afterwards we would stick around and have the teams sign baseballs. We always had a stash of baseballs and Sharpies in the car.”
Sometimes they would try to get autographs from all eight CWS teams. Sometimes they would try to find individual players or coaches.
“We would always have a certain goal every year for what autographs we wanted to get,” she said.
And then… Isaac grew up, which left Jackie with a problem.
“I still wanted to do it because I’m just starstuck by the whole College World Series thing, but I felt uncomfortable going to the team practices and getting the players’ autographs when it’s all these little kids there and then me,” Jackie said. “It wasn’t really appropriate for this old lady to do it when I didn’t have a kid.”
For her first year on her own, she tried something new.
“I borrowed a kid,” she said. “I sort of bribed him. I was like, ‘Hey, do you need a ball? Do you need a Sharpie?’ And then, without him realizing it, I just kind of stood by him. When the team went through they probably thought I was his mom, which is what I wanted them to think.”
She had the team sign a ball and the boy got to keep the one she gave him.
Posing as a mom helped her blend in and eased some of her anxiety at being there alone.
“I wasn’t standing there on my own looking like a creepy stalker,” Jackie said.
Somehow, the experience still made her feel awkward and she decided not to do it again.
“After doing that one time on my own, and feeling very uncomfortable, I thought, ‘I have to change things up,’” she said.
Her attention shifted to the people who deliver the teams to the practices.
“I always noticed that the bus drivers are just hanging out and I thought, you know, maybe that should be my goal,” she said.
During the first year, Jackie’s objective was to get photographs.
“I just asked the bus driver if I could have a picture with him and I didn’t really chat,” she said. “The first year I’d get a few facts from them, but not much.”
When she started five years ago, she was met with skepticism from some of the drivers. Today, Jackie is a part of the CWS experience for the bus drivers.
“It’s a lot of the same guys every year, so they now kind of expect me to be there,” she said. “I always introduce myself to the new drivers as that creepy old lady who stalks bus drivers. ‘I don’t know if you’ve heard of me.’”
One of her favorite drivers is Skip (she only uses their first names), who is the senior member of the CWS bus driving team.
Jackie has had her picture taken with Skip in all five years of her bus driver photo tour, but the first time he met her he didn’t want anything to do with her.
“He wouldn’t take a picture, wouldn’t talk,” she said. “Then he found out that we know someone in common and then he talked to me. Now we’re best of buds.”
The drivers like having a moment of their own, Jackie said.
“They all love to talk,” she said. “They, obviously, don’t reveal anything confidential or personal about the teams. What goes on in the bus stays on the bus, but they like to talk about how long they have been doing it and the trips they have taken.”
Most of the drivers work for Arrow Stage Line and many have already had full careers.
“They might be a retired teacher or retired military,” she said. “A lot of them have been over the road truck drivers and retired from that. This is a second career and they love doing it.”
The drivers are the backbones of the teams during the CWS, she said.
“They get these teams not only to and from practice and to and from the games, but they get them to the non-game activities,” she said.
The teams attend dinners, visit Children’s Hospital and take part in other activities during the series.
“Those bus drivers get them from point A to point B for everything they have going on,” Jackie said. “They are just a very important part of the process and I never felt like they got enough credit.”
A complication of getting pictures with the drivers is that, except for the scheduled sessions on the day of the opening ceremonies, the practice sessions are no longer advertised.
“Back in the day you could go on a CWS website and find out where the teams were practicing,” Jackie said.
Her friends and family have developed into an unplanned network of lookouts for team buses.
“I’ll get texts from people saying, ‘Hey, did you know the A&M bus driver is out there?’ or ‘So and so is at Creighton today and so and so is practicing over here,’” she said.
Most often her method of locating buses is to drive around to the various practice fields.
“It takes a lot of work,” Jackie said. “I’ll go out over my lunch hour and drive around to the high schools. Since I work right here at Creighton, every day I walk down to the ball field and I do get a few down there.”
She drove to Bellevue East High School on Saturday to catch the Arkansas bus driver.
There is an urgency to accomplish her mission as early in the CWS week as possible because the losing teams – and their bus drivers - don’t stick around.
“One goes home the first Monday and one goes home the first Tuesday,” she said. “If I don’t get them that first weekend I’m going to totally miss them.”
Finding a bus does not always mean she will locate the driver, which is what happened with one driver she missed in 2016.
“I kept trying to find the TCU bus driver. He was the last one,” Jackie said.
She found the bus several times, but the driver was never with it. She parked herself at the TCU bus one day and waited.
“There are pictures of me sitting outside the bus, but I could not find the guy,” she said. “So finally we just drew a stick figure and I called him ‘Stick, my imaginary bus friend.’”
One year her niece and her daughter got a picture with a bus driver that she couldn’t find.
Jackie found the Vanderbilt bus over her lunch hour on Wednesday.
As of Thursday, she still needed a picture with the Michigan bus driver. The team is in the winners’ bracket, so she is confident she will succeed.
She has thought about quitting for the last several years, because “it’s just a silly, funny thing,” she said.
“And every year, when I think I’m not going to do it because it’s so much work, someone will say ‘Hey, I can’t wait to hear about the bus drivers.’ So then I keep doing it.”