PORTLAND — He was an All-Star, one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, making millions with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was not enough to keep Jeff Shaw in the game.
After the 2001 season, a year in which he pitched in his second Major League All-Star Game, Shaw retired.
His decision was not based on health (he was fine) or age (only 35). He quit because of another reason.
He was a dad.
“Very easy decision,” Shaw said. “I retired when Travis started middle school. He was starting sixth grade, and I didn’t want to father over the phone.”
Travis Shaw is now 23 and playing first base for the Portland Sea Dogs. His game benefited from having a big-leaguer for a dad. His character and confidence developed from the love of a man committed to being his father.
“He made me realize family is the most important thing you can have in life,” Travis Shaw said.
JEFF MODELED HIS OWN DAD
Jeff Shaw grew up in the small rural town of Washington Court House, Ohio, between Columbus and Cincinnati. He acquired a work ethic and family values from his father.
“He worked hard his whole life,” Shaw said. “We didn’t have a whole lot, but he was home every night and didn’t miss any of my games.”
Shaw went on to pitch in college, then was a first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 1986. He made his major league debut on April 30, 1990, two weeks after Travis was born.
Shaw had married his high school sweetheart, Julie, and Travis would be the oldest of their three children.
The lifestyle of a professional baseball player is not always family friendly, but Shaw made his family a priority. Where he went — whether it be spring training, or in one of the five cities Shaw called home as a major leaguer, his wife and children were there.
“We always found ways to be together,” Julie said.
When it was time for Shaw to go to spring training, his family followed. Julie secured tutors for their children to finish their lessons.
Travis got an extra bonus. He joined dad at the ballpark in the afternoon.
“Every day,” Travis said, beaming at the memory. “I would shag during batting practice. Then he’d take me down to the cage and flip me balls for about 10-15 minutes. I was around baseball every day for about three or four years.”
Sounds like a fantasy come true for a 9-year-old.
“I didn’t realize it at the time,” Travis said. “But looking back I see how rare it was, and how important it was to me.
“Now I realize how important family was to my dad. He was willing to do that every day, especially with me at such a young age.”
FAMILY MORE PRECIOUS THAN MONEY
Jeff Shaw pitched for Cleveland, Montreal, the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati and the Dodgers. He led the National League in saves (42) in 1997, and was named to his first All-Star Game the next season.
In 2001, Shaw recorded 43 saves for the Dodgers and was making $6.4 million. A free agent in 2002, Shaw might have made even more.
But Travis was in middle school. Jeff and Julie decided that they would no longer pull him out of school. So Jeff walked away from baseball and a multi-million dollar salary.
“He can afford to make this decision,” Shaw’s agent, Joe Bick, said at the time. “Staying and raising his family is more important to him than being away from home as much as a professional athlete is.”
Travis established himself as a solid player in high school. His dad helped, throwing him batting practice before his high school team’s practice.
Travis was drafted by the Red Sox in the 32nd round in 2008. With his father’s input, Travis decided he was not ready for pro ball and attended Kent State.
Boston drafted him again in 2011, in the ninth round.
In his first full pro season last year, Shaw batted .305 for advanced Class A Salem and was promoted to Double-A Portland on Aug. 1.
Shaw is known for his mature approach at the plate. He understands the strike zone and rarely swings at bad pitches — a result of his early tutelage with his father.
Jeff remains involved. He follows Travis’ games on the web. Father and son talk after nearly every game.
The spotlight on Travis Shaw brightened Aug. 21 last year when the Red Sox traded first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers. Shaw was considered the best first-base prospect in the Red Sox minor league system.
STAYING UPBEAT IN DOWN YEAR
Could he make it to Boston soon? Perhaps it was that question that has led to Shaw’s poor start in 2013. Shaw admits he has pushed himself to improve, perhaps too quickly. It has not worked. He is batting .210 with three home runs.
“It’s been rough this year, not what I expected,” Shaw said. “You realize your dream (of playing in the majors) is not that far away. I put too much pressure on myself. I tried to hit more home runs, swinging at pitches out of the zone. I can’t think like that. I’m not that type of hitter.
“I had a couple days off at the end of May, giving me a chance to hit the reset button. June’s been a little better. I’m making consistent, hard contact again. I feel a lot more confident at the plate. I think soon it’s all going to turn and work itself out by the end of the year.”
Through it all, there have been conversations with dad.
“He’s keeping me as positive as I can be,” Travis said. “He had rough years in the minor leagues. He said it will all work itself out.”
Travis has other support. He was married this past offseason, to Lindy, whom he has known since high school.
Travis will not be with his dad on Father’s Day. While Travis is playing a 1 p.m. game at Hadlock Field, his parents, sister Molli and brother Griffin are enjoying a vacation in Hawaii. But Jeff Shaw can start his day with a treat. He will power up the computer at 7 a.m. Hawaii time, click on the Sea Dogs website and follow the game to see how his boy is doing.
After the game, the phone will ring. Father and son will connect, again.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: