RENO —His long, swooping curveball was as nasty as Nevada’s spring weather.
Batters feared him. Scouts loved him, even if they had to brave the harsh winter-like conditions that Northern Nevadans have come to call the norm in spring baseball.
“I think it was the fact that one, his breaking pitch was so big,” recalled Chris Healy, a longtime baseball umpire, about watching Shawn Estes pitch. “He had stuff. He had really big stuff. He had a good fastball, but it was that big curveball that drew a lot of attention. He was just such a good pitcher but a good athlete.”
Estes, a southpaw, three-year letter winner with the Douglas Tigers who dazzled Northern Nevada hitters before enjoying a 13-year career in the Major Leagues, was recently inducted into the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Hall of Fame.
“I’m very honored, humbled,” said Estes, who graduated in 1991. “Looking through the list of the all guys who are in, some familiar names came up. Mike Rippee was a longtime coach at Douglas and Ron McNutt, who coached at Carson for all those years. There were some guys I played with, Greg Maddux, a Cooperstown Hall of Famer. I’m very honored to be part of this group.”
Estes and nine other players, coaches and contributors were inducted into the 23rd class of the Hall of Fame at the University of Nevada’s Lawlor Events Center.
“When he started throwing and throwing really well, I don’t think we had ever seen that concerted numbers of scouts, the bucket hats and speed guns, and that’s what I remember,” said Healy, who served as the Master of Ceremonies. “If you did an Estes game, you had a lot of company. His stuff was so good that I think it was hard for him to harness it. When he learned how to harness it, boy, he had some good years.”
It was Estes’ dominance on the hill with the Tigers that separated him from the rest and eventually led to him to be drafted by the Seattle Mariners as the 11th overall pick. Estes, who played for coach Hal Wheeler, posted an 8-2 record in his last year with the Tigers, including striking out 141 and posting a 0.79 ERA over 61 2/3 innings. Estes was also deadly at the plate, belting eight home runs and hitting .448.
“He’s obviously one of the most deserving athletes to come out of Douglas High School and the state for that matter,” said Douglas athletics director Jeff Evans, who nominated Estes for the shrine.
Estes, made his Major League debut for the San Francisco Giants in 1995 after being traded from Seattle. His first big-league win came against rival Los Angeles when he threw seven shutout innings. Two years later, Estes and his big curveball made a big splash as he helped the Giants win the West over the Dodgers.
“The fact is we almost lost 100 games in ’96,” Estes said of what made the 1997 team memorable. “We completely retooled the game, brought in a lot of guys (general manager) Brian Sabean wasn’t sure that he had the right number for them — J.T. Snow, Jeff Kent — to name a couple.”
That 1997 team felt like the deserved movie sequel to “Major League” because no one respected the Giants before the 1997 season.
“Then we weren’t picked by anyone to win. We were picked to finish last,” said Estes, who posted a 19-5 record and 3.18 ERA. “The stars aligned that year. It was probably the best team I played on. We were just a team and all came together. Sometimes you get a lot of new guys and it can go the other way and there’s no chemistry. Beating the Dodgers in the last week of the season was a huge series. I won’t forget Brian Johnson’s home run in 13 innings. It was just one of those magical seasons that I was able to contribute.”
Estes would go on to have a six-year career with the Giants and then play for the Mets, Reds, Cubs, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Padres. Now, Estes, who lives in Arizona with his wife. Nathalie Ann Estes. and children Jackson Timothy (age 12), Cody Glenn (11) and Avery Ann (18 months), can be seen on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area as a game analyst for the Giants.
In his spare time, Estes enjoys giving back to Northern Nevada where he held several clinics and is involved with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Make-A-Wish Foundation. Estes’ grandfather died from MS when drugs weren’t available, and the only remedy was proper dieting.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Estes said about giving back. “Your career lasts so long. You can impact people in a positive way or negative way in your career. When you’re on a stage like that, you want to make a difference. You want to impact somebody even if it’s just one person.”