Jim Shane and Willie Mays

The first non-family person I ever remember looking up to was baseball great Willie Mays. I had come across a book in the library entitled, The Baseball Life of Willie Mays. I knew very little about baseball and had never seen Willie Mays play. My dad was not a baseball fan, so I’d never even been to a big league game. Before I knew it I had re-read the book several times and, outside of family, it became clear that Willie Mays was possibly the most important person in my life. I started studying baseball and watching my hometown team, the Twins. Even with stars like Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva on the team, they couldn’t hold a candle to the great Willie for me.

When I was about ten (a couple of years after my grandpa Grewe died), I befriended an older gentleman that I met on while on a trip with my dad. His name was Jim Shane. We had taken a cruise from New York City to the Bahamas. It was a relatively short cruise that I don’t remember much about. I just remember that after the cruise, we had a relatively large group of people wandering around the city before we had to head the airport. We walked by a storefront that had a large poster/photo of Willie Mays in the window. I was mesmerized. My dad was moving on, but I stayed back from the group looking at the photo. Jim Shane was a part of our group and cajoled me to catch up to the group.

He told me to call him “Shane.” We talked about baseball as we walked through New York. When Shane was my age he watched the 1927 Yankees, thought of as the best team of all time. We talked Yankees, baseball, and later, Twins.

After we returned from that trip, Shane and I stayed in touch. He had worked in the mining industry. When he was in his late 40s, he fell nearly 100 feet and landed on his head. From that point on he was retired by the company and received a nice pension. Shane had no visible problems due to the accident, but he never worked again. Instead, he worked as full-time volunteer. He made daily trips to transport blood for the Red Cross. He drove people all over town. He made deliveries for volunteer organization. He harvested his garden all summer long and provide our family, and many other families in town with fresh fruits and vegetables. Overall, he just made himself useful for others. That was who he was.

For several years, we met regularly for pancakes. He also took me and my friends to Twins games on a semi-regular basis. Jim and his wife, Lucille, had no children. After a year or two of our friendship, Lucille suddenly died. I was in shock, but not nearly as much as Shane was. I remember walking up to him at her funeral and it seemed as he just walked right past me in a daze.

Lucille’s death changed our relationship for a time, but not for long. Pretty soon, he was back to helping others – and taking me out for pancakes and baseball games. Shane was like my substitute grandfather, but perhaps even closer. I called him on the phone nearly every day. We could talk baseball – and life – for hours. I suspect this was a rather unique relationship, as it lasted easily until my mid-teens. When other friends were on the phone with girls, I was on the phone talking baseball with Shane. It’s was probably after I entered high school that I thought I was too old for him. Fortunately, Shane latched onto my younger brother, Jon, and continued the contact with our family.

Shane’s selfish service to others and his basic kindness to everyone he met made a big impression on me. I am lucky to have had such positive, friendly, and giving influences like Shane in my life. His influence, plus my friendship with another great friend named Jim, led us to name our first-born son James. I’m sure Shane would be proud.

One thought on “Jim Shane and Willie Mays

  1. Wow. How bizarre. I just met someone yesterday that knew Jim Shane. She told me there’s a bench at the old Midway Hospital with his name on it! Thanks for the memories!

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