Duluth couple shares passion for baseball

On a cloudy afternoon in October, Sheila and Alan Bollavance sat together in their living room watching the Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees in the 2012 playoffs. The smell of Alan’s chicken filled the home, and he sat in his rocking chair enjoying his dinner and his wife’s company.

She takes a seat next to him on the couch and fixes her gaze on the television. “I’m a total baseball freak,” she said. She watches for a few moments and turns to tell her story.

Sheila and Alan were born and raised on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota. She was from Virginia, and he was from Biwabik. They went to the same junior college and transferred to the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) to finish their degrees.

The couple was married in 1966 and then started their family. Their first child was born on the day of their one-year anniversary, and two more followed shortly after. The couple moved around the state but finally settled in Duluth in 1970.

“We were familiar with Duluth and always liked it,” Sheila said. “That was our goal – to get back here after college, and we got lucky and did.”

After settling into their new home, Sheila and Alan’s children started school and got involved in sports.

“My passion is sports,” Sheila said. “Our kids all played sports, and our grandkids play sports. We go to all their games.”

“It’s taken every nickel I’ve ever had,” Alan said as he crossed his arms and shot his wife a joking smile.

“What is the point of saving it?” Sheila asked her husband. “We can’t be buried with it, so we might as well spend it on the grandkids now.”

Sheila grew up in a family that had a passion for baseball. Her grandmother was from Italy and loved watching the game. Sheila’s father grew up playing baseball, and when he was old enough, he coached in their hometown of Virginia.

Sheila has a wall of pictures that tell the story.

“This is my baseball wall,” she said. “I came from a long baseball family.”

As she said this, Shelia pointed to a drawing of baseball memorabilia that was done by a local artist. Pictures that she has with former Twins players Jason Kubel and Jesse Crain are also situated on the wall.

Yet, the ones that mean the most to her reminder her of the memories she shared on the field with her family. Five generations of family players and coaches hang on the wall to greet guests as they enter Sheila’s home.

“This is my mom at spring training baseball in Arizona with my nephew,” Sheila said as she gestured to a photograph hanging on the wall.

She lingered for a moment, taking it all in again and sighed.

“I’ve got tons of pictures, but this smattering says it all to me,” she said. “This is it in a snapshot.”

Sheila turned and began to shuffle around a few things on a nearby end table, opening a bound laminate book filled with newspaper articles.

“My sister-in-law put together a family book,” she said. “The Hansen baseball book.”

Proud of this new addition to accompany her wall, Sheila opens up the book and begins to flip through the countless articles that mostly feature her father and brothers when they played baseball in her hometown.

“These are my two brothers,” Sheila said as she pointed to a photograph in the book. “They were the batboy and the scorekeeper in those days.”

Sheila said that her brothers were eager to play as boys but were too young at the time the picture was taken. Turning a few pages, Sheila pointed out several pictures of the boys in their knee socks holding wooden bats, showing that the brothers got quite involved when they were old enough to play.

“They had a big celebration one year for my dad,” Sheila said as she glanced at a black and white photograph of the brothers shaking hands and passing a trophy. “They gave him a trophy for all his work he did with baseball.”

She flipped through the pages and pages of articles and photographs of her family as if this is the first time she has ever seen them. Sheila stopped every so often and talked about her favorite photographs, her face lighting up as she reminisced about her family’s achievements at the plate.

“In those days up on the Range, you had lots of articles and pictures in the newspaper,” Sheila said while she looked down at her book of memories. “Everything you ever did was put in the paper.”

She shook her head and closed the book, returning it to its spot on the coffee table. Sheila paused as she thought about how times have changed, coming to the realization that small-town news, personal stories and high school sports are rarely featured in newspapers today.

“Now it’s not like that,” she said as she glanced at her baseball wall. “Nobody does anything personal anymore. We were so fortunate to have this."

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