Local Sports News: Minshew to be honored at UGA-Vanderbilt game

Wayne MInshew at a favorite local hangout spot, Thurston's, in downtown Calhoun, where there is a salad named after him. (Tricia Dillard/Calhoun Times)

A baseball man through-and-through, when Wayne Minshew couldn’t make it in the big leagues, he decided to write about it.

His parents moved to Shannon when he was 2 to work in the Brighton Mill. It was the precursor to a baseball career that would lead their son to play for a national league baseball team.

Minshew’s love of America’s pastime sport led him on a winding journey though the world of baseball. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals, wrote Atlanta Braves stories for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, worked for the Atlanta Braves and finally moved back to Northwest Georgia.

The Beginning

“I grew up in the days when weekend baseball was the entertainment because it proceeded television,” Minshew said. “Baseball among mill teams was great weekend entertainment.”

The same Brighton Mill team he spent weekends watching was willing to let him watch practices.

“I was in the dugout one day watching this sweaty catcher try to lace his mit and his hands were all shaky, and he used a bad word,” Minshew shared. “I didn’t know what it meant so I took it home and used it. My mom overheard and barred me from the ballpark, and I always wondered where my career would have gone had I not disobeyed her.”

That’s when Minshew began working with the mill team.

“They would let us shag (catch fly balls in the outfield, chase down balls they would hit) when I was 11 or 12 years old.” Minshew said.

The mill players were required to run the Brighton Mill Recreation Department during the day as a part of their jobs.

“They organized teams and we just played challenge games and stuff like that,” he explained.

By the time he was attending Model High School in Rome, Minshew had plenty of practice playing around on the outskirts of the mill games.

Minshew was in it for the enjoyment of the game, but his performance drew attention.

“Just before my 11th-grade year of high school at Model, the high school baseball coach, who boarded across from me, came over and told me I was going to play varsity baseball,” Minshew said. “I never thought I was good enough or big enough.”

High school baseball led to playing for the mill team, which led to college baseball and finally the pros.

Real Life

After a few years playing baseball at Georgia (where he still holds the earned run average record for the school), Minshew graduated with a journalism degree and a signed piece of paper saying he would be playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I signed in a dentist office,” Minshew said. “That showed my PR (public relations) skills were better than my ball-playing skills because all the leads said, ‘St. Louis Cardinals fill a short stop cavity.’”

He spent one summer with the Cardinals before moving into the world of journalism, and he found that his background in baseball helped him in his journalistic pursuits.

“It (the major league stint) made for great summer employment, but the best part of it was eight years later, it gave me credibility when I started covering major league baseball,” Minshew said. “There is something about sports; if you played, then you’re OK. If you didn’t play, they look at you kind of funny sometimes.”

His first journalism job was at the Times-Recorder in Americus, Ga. in 1959. He moved on to the Jacksonville Journal in Florida in 1960 to cover high school sports, including baseball after a few years.

Then, one morning in September of 1965, an editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) told Minshew, “you belong here.”

“He told me I wouldn’t be covering the Braves because he had hired somebody for that,” said Minshew. “But maybe two weeks after I was there, this guy decided he didn’t want to do it.”

The Braves’ move from Milwaukee to Atlanta between 1965 and 1966 involved a few court cases, according to Minshew. “There were restraining orders and all that, so I covered the trials,” he said, “and won the job by covering something I knew absolutely nothing about.”

Minshew spent the next 12 years as the Atlanta Braves beat writer for the AJC. His time there ended with the appearance of a new managing editor.

“He was young and he didn’t believe in extended beats,” Minshew explained. “He thought a two year beat on the same team was plenty.”

However, Minshew’s opinion of extended beats is a little different.

“He’s wrong because you don’t even make enough contacts to do a good job in two years,” Minshew said. The connections he had made writing about the Braves smoothed Minshew’s transition from journalism into public relations.

“My friend at the Braves (the director of PR) got Ted Turner to offer me a job,” he said. “I was hired as a media relations director, and three months later, they made me the PR director and the director of advertising and promotions.”

Braves and Ballet

As public relations director for the Atlanta Braves, Minshew’s job was to promote the team in new, creative ways that brought attention to the organization. To do this, he brought in the Atlanta Ballet to do their version of “The Seventh Inning Stretch,” a baseball tradition.

In another instance Minshew had an opportunity work with the New York Ballet.

“At spring training one year, the New York Ballet was there doing their spring training, and their PR director called me and said we should do something together since we are both here,” Minshew explained. “And I said, ‘Yeah, get one of your dancers to come over,’ because I had read all my life how the second basemen and shortstop make ballet movements.”

Minshew had his second basemen do a double-play pivot and the ballet director had her dancer do a pirouette.

“It made a great TV feature,” Minshew said. “It went for about two minutes on an Atlanta station.”

The Olympics

After working for the Braves for a few years, Minshew began working for the Atlanta Paralympics Organizing Committee, and from there was offered a job with an Olympic client for a public relations agency called Roundtree Group.

“The client was Miracle Ear and they were the only major sponsor at the Olympics without a celebrity spokes-person, so you really had to be creative to come up with some press,” Minshew said, “but we got lucky.”

One of the things Miracle Ear did was free ear-testing for athletes. During one of the tests, an athlete from Rwanda passed through and had the worst looking inner-ear they had ever seen, according the Minshew.

“As it turned out he was a victim of genocide during the factious period in Rwanda,” Minshew said. “An opposing faction beat him, poured hot diesel in his ears and left him for dead.”

Two years later, the kid from Rwanda was a long distance runner in the Olympics. He was also making Minshew’s job just a little easier.

“The stories that we generated made Sports Illustrated, NBC Television, USA Today, Parade Magazine,” he said. “We probably got over a billion impressions.”

As a result of the publicity, a doctor from Duke University Hospital read the story in Sports Illustrated and offered the Olympian free surgery. Minshew took him to Duke University Hospital where the doctor was able to restore 85 percent of his hearing.

The long-distance runner from Rwanda’s story did not end with his own healing.

“While we were there,” Minshew said, “we went to a Duke University basketball game, where the Duke coach was so moved by the story that he sent basketballs, sneakers and other equipment to Rwanda for their athletic programs.”

Calhoun

Minshew worked at an event marketing/public relations firm his friend owned for a while before moving to Calhoun in 2000. He officially retired from his public relations job in 2001 after spending a year commuting to Atlanta.

He attributes his move to a small town like Calhoun to an experience in Americus, Ga., where he worked his first journalism job at the Times-Recorder.

“I made a decision to retire to a small town because of Americus,” Minshew explained. “After I got out the sports page each morning, I did rounds for the city side of the paper, which included this coffee shop where these six or seven, eight guys were sitting around solving all the problems of the world, and I said, ‘That’s going to be me,’ and so Calhoun was it.”

He was the executive director for the Gordon County Literacy County for nine years before retiring from that position in June of 2011.

During his time there, he engineered a special project: the GED Wall of Honor at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, where an adult education student is honored each year.

“The thing I’m proudest of (as a part of the Literacy Council) is the GED Wall of Honor, because all those recipients had great stories to tell,” said Minshew. “I mean they came out of wherever to succeed, to accomplish a good thing.”

He said that all of the students awarded to the GED Wall of Honor have found jobs and succeeded.

“They came from such places that it took nerve and guts to go back to school again and get that diploma,” he explained. “Because of that, people read about their stories in the paper and are inspired. I know of two people who have read them and decided to enroll from hearing those stories.”

Away from journalism and the literacy council, Minshew can’t help but write. He just finished a project written for his kids titled, “The Absentee Father or Where the Hell Were You When I Turned 13-Years-Old?”

Minshew has two kids, both in their 40’s. His daughter Melanie Wilkey lives in Marshaville, N.C. and has three children of her own. She has two sons in college and one adopted daughter who is 12. His son Mike Minshew lives in Charlotte, N.C. and has a 9-year-old son.

Minshew is enjoying his full retirement by continuously looking for more projects. He is currently working to help bring a music history Smithsonian exhibit to Calhoun and hopes this will come to fruition in April, 2012.