I knew the moment I glanced down at my phone and saw Coleen Brooks’ name on my caller ID this morning. I knew.
She was calling to deliver the sad news—that our buddy, Wayne Minshew, had passed away last night after a brief battle with cancer.
Coleen and I visited Wayne a few weeks after he moved his base camp from a local downtown eatery to the living room of his town home. As we sat eating sandwiches we’d purchased from Thurston’s, I shared something very personal with them. “You guys are two of my favorite people,” I said. “Really! I value our friendship more than either of you know.” I felt the need to say it out loud for the universe to hear, because something told me that time was running out.
Coleen Brooks and Wayne Minshew on the sidewalk in front of Thurston’s. We met often and read each other’s writings.
Wayne, Coleen, and I launched a very informal writing critique group a few years ago. They were already friends, and they welcomed me into their inner circle. Being part of their prestigious writing tribe made me feel special. We met about every other month, shared writing projects, and gossiped a bit over lunch.
Wayne always greeted me with a cheery, “Hello, Kiddo,” which is funny because I am fifty—far, far from a kid. But Wayne always made me feel like a young grasshopper—an apprentice listening and learning from the master.
“Well, Kiddo, what are you writing this week?” he would ask me. And we would discuss my assignments and projects.
Coleen Brooks and Wayne Minshew in 2014 at Thurston’s in Calhoun.
He and I shared a love of writing and storytelling. He always encouraged me. In fact, Wayne was one of the first writers to contribute a story to Project Keepsake. He wrote a story about a brick. I loved it from the time he sent it to me. During my dozens of book rejections, he and Coleen encouraged me not to give up. And when the book was finally published, I couldn’t wait to meet with them and hand them their copies. The three of us sat in a booth at Thurston’s, signed each other’s books, and giggled – such a happy memory.
Wayne was always full of stories from his past.
“Have I ever told you the story of when I had to fire Chief Noc-A-Homa?” he remarked one day. I nodded my head from side-to-side, and so he treated me to the story of his terminating the screaming Indian mascot of the Atlanta Braves. I was pleasantly entertained, as always.
Wayne carved an eternal place in baseball’s history by pitching in the minor leagues then working for the Atlanta Constitution for thirteen years as the newspaper’s first beat writer for the Atlanta Braves. He later worked for the Braves for eleven years as their director of public relations and promotions. He also served as the Atlanta correspondent for The Sporting News, a prestigious publication that many referred to as The Bible of Baseball.
Wayne’s soulful, autobiographical narratives from his career glorified the game of baseball and delivered interesting insights into the lives and personalities of many of the boys of summer. He knew all of them.
“I was there that night, you know,” he announced one day. “Everybody knew that Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was going to hit the 715th homer that night. Well, everyone except maybe Hank. I don’t know if he knew it. He was humble. A class act—just a class act.”
Wayne waited to witness history that night so he could write about it. But he told me that the words wouldn’t come that evening. He stared at a blank piece of paper and panicked a bit. He finally typed out something and turned it in. The newspaper placed it on the front page.
Young Wayne Minshew – a baseball man through-and-through.
Back then, Wayne formed relationships with everyone connected with baseball, including players of the other teams. At the end of the day, he produced some of the best sports articles in history by observing the game up close and personal and pounding the keys on a portable typewriter with a deadline breathing down his neck.
He was honored a few years ago by being included in a book titled, Keepers of the Game: When the Baseball Beat was the Best Job on the Paper (Dennis D’Agostino). Wayne’s story was chapter nineteen. He was proud to be in that book with other members of an elite sportswriting fraternity including Ross Newhan, Hal McCoy, Murray Chass, Peter Gammons, and Bill Madden.
“Yeah, I knew Ted Turner,” he said to me one day after I inquired. He told me three or four stories from his memory about the eccentric founder of Cable News Network (CNN) and once owner of the Atlanta Braves.
“Ted was such an interesting character. When Ted first bought the club, he’d call me twice a week at home. I remember one night he called and said, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m about to watch a movie on TV.’ He said, ‘What movie?’ and I said, ‘The Longest Yard .’ He said, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to see that one. What channel is it on?’ And I said, ‘Yours.'”
“Ted Turner paid someone to pick up pitcher Pascual Perez and bring him to the ball games after that incident in the early eighties where Perez missed a game start because he got lost on I-285,” he laughed.
The stories rolled off his tongue.
“I learned my first swear word at the ballpark. The big one,” he told me one time. “I brought it home, and my mom forbade me to go back to the ballpark. I often wonder which direction my life would have taken had I not disobeyed her, because I kept going to the ballpark.”
He often told me about his mother’s last days before Alzheimer’s claimed her life.
“She had not known me for a while, but that last day, my brother and I went to see her together,” he recalled. “She said, ‘There are my two boys.’ That moment was such a gift.”
The man was a repository of golden stories from his golden life.
“Did you see the Braves last night,” I asked him during my last visit just a few days ago at Morning Pointe in Calhoun.
“Yes,” he said and his face lit up. “I don’t think its going to be a great year for them, but that was a great game. They are building a new team this year. You have to do that sometimes. We’ll see.”
And then Wayne and I watched an old black and white Western together and tried to figure out who the beautiful, young actress was the main cowboy was interested in. We still had not figured it out when the nurse brought him his lunch —chicken and dumplings his sister-in-law had made for him.
“Who was your favorite cowboy?” I asked him.
“Of all time?”
“Yeah, out of all the cowboys, who was your all time favorite?”
“Well, that’s a good question. Maybe Gene Autry,” he finally said. “Roy Rogers was just too fancy for me.”
Wayne wasn’t a fancy kind of guy. He was one of us—down-to-earth, authentic, and genuinely sweet. He was Calhoun’s Harper Lee—our local resident writer who everyone in town knew and loved and protected. Our community embraced him until the very end.
His passing hurts. I’ll miss his smile and his kindness and his concern for others. I’ll miss reading his columns and hearing his stories. I’ll miss seeing him at Thurston’s. I’ll miss his phone calls. I’ll miss his calling me “Kiddo.” I’ll miss my friend.
Somehow, Coleen and I will carry on without him. That’s what Wayne would have wanted us to do—continue writing, meeting, reading each other’s work, laughing, gossiping, and loving one another.
I’ll close with a joke Wayne would have appreciated.
Two old men had been best friends for years, and they both lived to their early nineties, when one of them suddenly fell deathly ill. His friend came to visit him on his deathbed, and they reminisced about their long friendship. The friend said, “Listen, when you die, do me a favor. I want to know if there’s baseball in heaven.”
The dying man responded, “We’ve been friends for a lifetime, so yes, I’ll do this for you.” And then he died.
A few days later, the surviving friend was sleeping and he heard his friend’s ghostly voice.
“I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” the friend’s voice said. “The good news is: there’s baseball in heaven.”
“What’s the bad news?” the living friend asked.
“You’re pitching on Wednesday.”
Wayne, I know you’ll pitch a no-hitter, my friend. Love to you always!