This story ran in the "7th Inning Stretch" segment of the PlayBall! program at Dr Pepper Ballpark from July 3-8.
Paul Watkins has met the Cotton Bowl contenders multiple years. He's played Playstation with Jurickson Profar. He's rescued Madonna and her crew when they were stranded with a broken down bus on the highway.
Want to meet the celebrities? All you have to do is drive.
Paul Watkins, or "Paulie" and "Boston Paulie," as he is affectionately known, drives the Frisco RoughRiders to their various Texas League destinations. For the past ten years, Paul has been driving charter buses, and for the last two seasons for Gotta Go Trailways, he has been transporting the 'Riders during the summers to Midland, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Springdale, Springfield and North Little Rock.
He drives for Hardin-Simmons University's basketball and baseball teams and various entertainers and sports teams, but the RoughRiders are his favorite. "Out of all the teams that I take, this is where I want to be," Paul said. "These are the nicest guys I have ever been around.
"In a way, it is hard," he said, "because we had a lot of players move up last year [to Triple-A and the major leagues]: guys like Leury Garcia, Engel Beltre and Profar. I was close with a lot of those guys."
Although those players moved on to higher levels, Paul still enjoys this year's group because he feels like part of the team.
"You know why I love this gig," he explained. "Because, from the coaches to the players, I am not just the bus driver; it's like I am a player," he explains.
Players in the minors often look upon the long bus travel with ire. It's a necessary but dreaded evil of life as a professional, but not major league, ballplayer.
Paul knows this and, correspondingly, views his job as more than just making the wheels on the bus turn. When the team arrives in a city for a series, the long drives are over with until their departure three or four days later. But Paul's work is not done.
He takes a handful of players to a local gym each morning so they can get in their workout. In the afternoon, he drives the players out on a lunch trip and perhaps out shopping for various essentials or simply to pass the time.
Paul gets some free time to himself, but he largely views his job as an all-day affair. "I am Johnny on the spot. My job is take care of them and make their lives as easy as I can."
In return, the RoughRiders players help him out and take care of him and the bus. "A lot of sports teams don't take care of the inside of the bus," said Paul. "These guys-no, no, no. They keep it nice and clean with me. And they take care of me to, asking if I am tired and okay to take the guys somewhere."
And the feeling is mutual. Not only do the 'Riders treat Paulie like part of the family but when asked, many of their eyes light up: "One of the nicest guys I know," says 'Riders first baseman Brett Nicholas.
Miguel De Los Santos traveled with his Playstation last year and routinely played Paul in NBA video games (Celtics vs. Heat, always). With Miguel not on this year's team, you might not find Paul hanging out and playing virtual hoops with the RoughRiders this season, but he is one of the group. He explained it best, "It's like I am part of the family."