Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, tie score. Stephen Hale ‘Shah, The Boomer’ Shahbazian was the man you wanted swinging the bat.
He would dig in, confident, serious. That’s the kind of guy he was when he was competing on the field. Outside the lines of competition Shah was fun-loving, humorous, quick witted. He might speak to the pitcher, catcher, umpire, everyone was fair game. Maybe issue a challenge because Shah wanted everyone to be at their best, since he was going to be. He would always comment and hope to elicit a response, because Shah loved to debate. Shah could debate just about any topic and loved every opportunity to do just that. He usually had plenty to say and was a very pun-ny guy. Maybe that’s why he was a whiz at crossword puzzles, he knew so many words.
Boomer might have let the first pitch go. He was patient. It was evident in his patient, generous love for his wife of 32 years, Jerry, always on display. His patience showed as a tender, caring father for sons, Robert and Stephen, Jr. He was patient and strong-willed enough to witness son Robert fall in love and recently add daughter-in-law Kimberly to the family. It was also clearly evident in Boomer’s amazingly graceful and steady golf swing, a sport he loved to play with family, friends and workmates, on courses near and far, as Shah was growing up and living in Alameda and later buying homes in San Lorenzo and Danville.
Shah would probably take a strike, because he liked challenges and knew he could handle the risk. Just as he took on the challenge and victoriously battled Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1990. Shah’s participation in all things family and fun never wavered, even as he underwent multiple sessions of radiation treatment and chemotherapy. Then, through 27 years of battling leukoencephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that resulted from that earlier illness, Boomer showed the heart and courage of a lion, or rather a wildcat, a Rittler Wildcat to be exact. He dealt with all of it, with strength, biting humor, laughter, and deep love. There was never a doubt from Shah, his family or friends that he would handle that first strike and others to follow.
Steve’s confidence and inner-strength might make the pitcher waver and throw a ball in the dirt. But Shah wouldn’t chase, he always had a good eye at the plate. The baseball plate as well as the dinner plate. An accomplished home-cook, especially his renowned and often requested potato salad, Boomer, like the Babe, never passed up a hot dog in any form or fashion and he never saw a bowl of chili he didn’t like. Just ask the friends who were always with him, especially his week-day lunch buddy, Sue Perdue. Yes, Shah could really dig in at the plate. Please forgive our (chow) fun.
If the count was two balls, one strike, no worries for Shah the Boomer. He might take a chance on the next pitch, he loved games of chance. Cards, track, board games, all games, Shah meant to win out. Shah was a lifetime Bay Area sports fanatic, finally settling on the Warriors, Giants and 49ers for his favorites. All the other teams were only good for yelling at. In fact, so were the Warriors, Giants and 49ers, but only with positive criticism, LOUD positive criticism. Shah was a sportsman, all sports growing up, a ping pong aficionado, and he loved to fish, especially with his sons, Dad, brothers, and friends, even earning another nickname in Hilo, HI from the Cruz family: ‘da’fishaman’. But it was baseball where Boomer excelled and that prowess earned him a scholarship to play for Cal State Hayward, catcher and clean-up hitter. Rumors must have been true that he attended class because he graduated with a degree in Business Admin/Finance, which was his lifelong professional field until his illness worsened. His other chosen fields were in baseball, usually left or right, with his spot at clean-up rarely changing. He was a fulltime coach for his two boys, too, never missed their games, and always supported his many nieces, nephews and family friends. Yes, certainly the Boomer would take a mighty cut and perhaps pull one foul, strike two.
Two balls, two strikes. Another ball and the count would be full. The Boomer’s demeanor wouldn’t change. He was always himself, equal parts luck, self-determination, stubbornness, and faith. That was obvious when he met his wife to be, Jerry Harbinson. Lucky to meet her at the Rusty Pelican in Alameda in 1982, maintaining his self-determination while they dated and grew to know each other, and demonstrating his stubbornness by sustaining his faith they would one day marry. That wedding day was August 23, 1986, and their love has grown ever since. Steve and Jerry’s care and dedication to each other is legend. On their 30th anniversary, Steve and Jerry renewed their vows in a beautiful ceremony in Santa Cruz, surrounded by their children and friends, an everlasting memory of their love-filled adventures. The celebration proved to all that Steve and Jerry were living life to the fullest, living love to the fullest. If one were to take into account the measure of Shah’s life, the count would truly be full, not full of tension or strife or fear, but full of love and joy. The very first words Steve spoke to Jerry when they met were, “You’re the girl I’m going to marry.” The very last words he spoke to Jerry were, “I love you.”
With the count full, Boomer’s teammates and supporters would roar with excitement, thrilled to know that their favorite son, brother, friend would not fail them. The Boomer was at the plate. They cheered him on, teammates from the Rittler Wildcats, the Alameda Pirates, Encinal Jets, American Legion teams, Cal State Hayward Pioneers, the Fellas, Cleavers, and the Willies. His mother, Barbara, applauded loudly, although alas, his father, Bob, had already been called home. Many of Shah’s surviving family would be there, his brothers and their spouses, Michael and Cindy, Richard and Lamar, and John and Martine; nephews and nieces would cheer him on, Christopher, Carly, Brian, Katelyn, Ethan, Oliver, Krystel; and, great-nephews, Lucas and Noah. Many of Jerry’s Harbinson-family were Shah’s adoring fans. Waiting ahead with Steve’s father to welcome Shah home after the game were Jerry’s mom, Josephine, and brother, Rome; but crowded in the front row were her sisters, Cindy and Mary, and Mary’s husband, Johnny Moore, their children, Madeline, Sophina, J.L., and Austin; Jerry’s Uncle Ray, his wife, Julie, and the beautiful Cruz family; and, many more nieces and nephews, including Eleanor, her husband, Ricket, and their baby, Orin.
When the next pitch was finally delivered, it was a high hard one. The illness that Shah had battled time and again over so many years, came with a vengeance.
Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, tie score, full count. What would Stephen Hale ‘Shah, the Boomer’ Shahbazian do? He dug in, he challenged, he stayed strong, strong for his family, his friends, he meant to win out, he was stubborn, determined, full of faith, full of love. Steve Shah was what he has always been. The Boomer swung with all his lefty might and boomed that last wicked, unfair fastball all the way up to Heaven for a grand slam homerun, then he safely slid into the Pearly Gates just for the fun of it. We are all the luckier for being part of Our Shah’s team. That final at-bat was January 22, 2019.
A small family service will be held. Family and friends will be invited to a Celebration of Steve’s Life at a later date.