Paul Hack said running a baseball organization is a lot like any other job, except that it’s four businesses rolled in one.
“It’s owning a restaurant, it’s janitorial, it’s operations, it’s all inclusive,” the Casper resident told Cowboy State Daily.
Hack and his wife Kristi bought the Caldwell, Idaho-based Canyon County Spuds summer college baseball team last year when team founder and former owner Jeff Dobish reached out and asked if they’d be interested in buying the ballclub.
The couple had already been approached a few years ago about buying the Casper Horseheads, a summer college team that existed for four years before folding last December. They had hosted Horseheads players in the past and thought why not?
Now in their first season as the Casper Spuds, Hack said they’re getting a crash course on all that’s involved in owning a baseball team.
“You can’t anticipate the things that go on during a baseball season, but it’s been surreal, it’s been a ton of fun,” Hack said. “It’s been a ride, it’s fast, it’s furious.”
More Than A Number
The Spuds’ successful inaugural season in Casper has been a testament to the Hacks’ ownership. During their four years of existence, the Horseheads never had a winning season.
Paul Hack said the Spuds have been able to post a winning record by treating players well and providing them with enjoyable activities on their off days, a legacy carried over from Dobish.
“He kind of set the tone and had a reputation for taking care of his players, and we’ve kind of continued that,” Hack said.
Hack also credits a little bit of luck and team chemistry. Aside from a few players from smaller NCAA Division I schools, the Independence League Baseball team is mostly made up of players from small colleges. They have four Wyoming natives on the roster this year, and Hack said he would like to see that number grow each season.
“If there’s guys eligible, we’d love to put them on there,” he said.
The team began its season in late May and will finish out play this weekend.
For college baseball players, playing their sport in a new location can be an exciting experience at first, but homesickness can kick in rather quickly as well.
“It’s a long summer for those boys,” Hack said. “We know it’s a large commitment for them to come out here.”
Although a two-month baseball season has flown by for Hack and might not seem very long to the casual observer, there’s a lot more context involved for the players. Many of the Spuds players came almost straight in from their spring college baseball seasons that they started training for in the mid-winter. By the time their summer season ends this week, they will only get a week or two off before heading back to their college campuses for the fall semester.
“They love playing baseball and this is their passion, but we kind of know if we don’t take care of them and do right by them, by this time of year it gets pretty hard to go out there every day,” Hack said.
Another challenge for the Hacks is keeping their franchise afloat.
Owning a minor league or professional franchise is notoriously difficult no matter the sport or city. With internet streaming services, major level professional sports are now easier than ever to access no matter where fans are located. In many instances this likely pulls away audiences from more local, lower-level sports leagues.
Traditional professional sports organizations and summer college baseball teams typically haven’t lasted long in Wyoming. One of the most successful examples were the two minor league franchises the Colorado Rockies hosted (Rockies 2001-2008, Ghosts 2008-2011) in Casper over a decade-long span.
The Gillette Mustangs arena football team is the only other professional-level sports team still existing in Wyoming, and it’s only been around since 2021 and already has had multiple owners.
As for Independence League Baseball, the Spuds are the only active Wyoming team. A new team set up shop in Laramie last season, the Gem City Bison, but the team had to suspend operations this year and plan to return to the baseball diamond in 2024.
This first season has been a successful one for the Spuds. The team employed about 30 people this summer and had about 500 people at their games on average, Hack said. Despite the temperature barely hovering above 50 degrees on the Fourth of July, 1,700 fans turned out to watch the Spuds that night.
But the chilly weather in June didn’t help their efforts, with five games rained out that month.
“I don’t think Mother Nature will do this to us next June, but who knows?” Hack said. “It could snow too. You just don’t know.”
The community of Casper has a long history with the sport of baseball and has even produced major leaguers. But high-level baseball is a little harder for fans to reach. The closest college baseball program to Casper is at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. For professional ball, it’s the Colorado Rockies four hours away in Denver.
“We do see every night we have a game (that) we’ve got that core group of people who come out and are enthusiastic, thanking us for bringing a team,” Hack said. “It’s an opportunity to be exposed to a level of baseball in Wyoming we don’t get to see a whole lot.”
Hack said they are already looking forward to the next few seasons and are happy with their investment but wouldn’t rule out owning a higher-level baseball franchise someday.
“Any of that stuff is really on the table,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Spuds (32-22) will play Game 1 of their best-of-five series against the Fremont Moo of Fremont, Nebraska, in the Independence League Championship Series at Mike Lansing Field. Game 2 also will be in Casper before the team heads to Nebraska to finish out the series.
The Spuds won both games it played against the Moo earlier this season, but those were played over the opening weekend of the season.
“I firmly believe we have the best team in the league,” Hack said. “If we go out and do our job, I think we’re going to match up well.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.