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Munster baseball coach Bob Shinkan battles breast cancer amid coronavirus pandemic
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Munster baseball coach Bob Shinkan battles breast cancer amid coronavirus pandemic

Bob Shinkan (cancer)

Munster head coach Shinkan, middle, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September, 2019.

Bob Shinkan doesn't take anything for granted because he knows firsthand how quickly things can change.

"I'm only the second baseball coach at Munster," Shinkan said. "Mike Niksic was the first coach. I played for him, and I took over when he tragically died in a boating accident in 1985."

Niksic and his wife, Margaret, died on June 25, 1985, and for over three decades, Shinkan has carried on in his predecessor's memory, sometimes pondering the arbitrariness of his death.

Now, the 66-year-old is being faced with his own set of seemingly random, unfortunate circumstances.

Shinkan was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in September, and some nodules have reached his lungs. There is no history of cancer in his family, and according to to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, men make up less than 1% of all breast cancer cases.

"We went to the emergency room, and after a couple of tests, the emergency room doctor says, 'Hey, we gotta take you upstairs because it looks like there's a possibility of you having cancer in there,'" said Shinkan, who developed a lump on his right breast. "That was it. It was kind of a shock to myself and my family."

Shinkan has taught math at Munster for 45 years and this spring marked his 35th season as the baseball coach. Throughout his tenure, he has posted a 666-334 record, while claiming 10 sectional championships, four regional crowns and the Mustangs' lone state title in 2002.

Munster baseball coach Bob Shinkan (cancer)

Munster baseball coach Bob Shinkan has won 10 sectional titles, four regional crowns and one state championship during his 35-year tenure with the Mustangs. The 66-year-old was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2015. 

In the fall, Shinkan shared his diagnosis with his players and reassured them that he still intended to coach. Thankfully, he hasn't needed chemotherapy, but he did have to step away from the program to prioritize his health.

Early on, the two drugs Shinkan takes daily to combat the disease, Ibrance and tamoxifen, sapped him of his energy. He eventually returned to the team in the winter, and by then Shinkan said his condition was more or less old news. His players weren't oblivious to the severity of it, but for the most part, the Mustangs had turned their focus to going on a memorable run in 2020.

They just never got the opportunity.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the IHSAA to cancel all spring sports on April 2, and for the past six weeks Shinkan has mainly been at home to protect his compromised immune system. Getting his groceries delivered and having Zoom meetings with his son, Michael, and his two grandchildren have become the norm.

Occasionally, Shinkan will put on a mask and go for a walk with his wife, Laura, when hardly anyone is outside. It's not ideal, but Shinkan is still choosing to be optimistic.

"I'm going to take each day as a blessing," Shinkan said. "We just try to take it day by day, watch ourselves and go from there."

The two of them will also go for a few drives, passing by Munster's baseball field, and Shinkan is reminded of how much has changed on a personal and global scale within the last year.

This week was supposed to be the start of the postseason, yet for the first time in 35 years he isn't in the dugout.

"There was a good chance that we could have done some damage in the tournaments and stuff, and it was very disappointing when COVID-19 struck," Shinkan said. "It just kind of took (the players') baseball season away from them. But what are you going to do?"

Munster had eight seniors on this year's roster, including Iowa Western Community College commit Will Melby. The standout catcher and pitcher said it was an honor to play for Shinkan, especially considering what he means to the Munster community.

Lake Central/Munster baseball (cancer)

Munster catcher Will Melby, right, was honored to play for Mustangs baseball coach Bob Shinkan during his prep career.

"He was my babysitter when I was growing up, he lived right down the street from me and he was such a big part of my life," Melby said. "When I heard that he had cancer, it really hurt me. ... He's always there for everybody, and he really deserves to get back out on the field."

Shinkan even coached Melby's father, Bill, in high school, and those aren't the only full-circle moments he's experienced in his career.

Whiting baseball coach Adam Musielak fondly remembers facing Shinkan's teams as a prep athlete. The 2008 Highland graduate said it's been remarkable to see Shinkan coach for as long as he has and thanked the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame inductee for being a mentor to many up-and-coming coaches in the Region.

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Whiting baseball coach Adam Musielak, right, thanked Munster coach Bob Shinkan for always giving him coaching advice whenever the two Oilers and Mustangs square off.

"We played against them a couple times my first couple of years, and he's an awesome person," said Musielak, who is in his fifth season as coach of the Oilers. "I talked to him probably 10 minutes before the game and 10 minutes after the game, just trying to pick his brain.

"I'm sure the entire area is pulling for him. He's a Northwest Indiana legend."

Munster is upgrading its field with turf and a better drainage system in the outfield, which will be fully ready for the 2021 season. Shinkan said he can't wait to test it out. But until then, he's simply enjoying the "positive results" from his latest PET scans and appreciating every day.

"The tumors in my lungs are shrinking, and even the lump itself has shrunk from the original diagnosis back in the September because of the medicine," said Shinkan, who plans to continue coaching for years to come. "So, I just put my health in my oncologist's hands and God's hands."

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Lake County Sports Reporter

James Boyd is the Lake County prep sports reporter for The Times. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a proud native of Romeoville, Illinois. Before anything else, his main goal in life is to spread love and light.

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