Douglas High great Shawn Estes completes the circle
LVN Editor Emeritus
Former Douglas High School and San Francisco Giants pitcher Shawn Estes said his career is coming full circle.
From all levels of playing baseball to becoming a Giants studio analyst and now a color man in the booth, Estes has been involved with America’s pastime for a majority of his 45 years. Estes spent almost a half hour speaking to the media on Thursday prior to delivering comments at the annual Bobby Dolan Dinner, a fundraiser for the University of Nevada baseball team.
Looking slender and fit as though he could strike out the side from his perch on the pitching mound, the former southpaw maintains a strong love for the game and its legacy and isn’t afraid to talk about his roots.
“I never played college ball, but the University of Nevada was the team I followed,” said Estes, who received interest from Stanford University but decided to sign as the Seattle Mariners’ No. 1 pick. “My baseball coach at Douglas (Hal Wheeler) went to Reno and a group of coaches who grew up in the area went to school here.”
As a senior, Estes was one of the top pitchers in Northern Nevada. For his contribution as a prep player and career in Major League Baseball, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2016, six years after the Giants selected him for their Wall of Fame in San Francisco.
A LEGACY OF SPEAKERS
Coming to Reno in mid-January was exciting for Estes, not only to see family but also to see snow piling up in the Sierra Nevada.
“It’s definitely nice to get back — my parents still live in Gardnerville, and I get back a few times a year,” he said, specifically mentioning the holidays. “Right now, I couldn’t come at a better time outside the Bobby Dolan dinner. The snow is going to be pretty good this weekend. I don’t think I appreciated this area as much as when I was growing up as I do now … four seasons, base of the Sierra, Tahoe, and Reno’s turned into a great city.”
By speaking at this year’s Bobby Dolan Dinner, Estes said he’s part of a legacy of well-known players who spoke at the annual event such as former Giants manager Dusty Baker, former Giants and current Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts and retired Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, the Carson City slugger Matt Williams, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who came to Reno last year. Estes played for Bochy for one year in San Diego.
“Those are some incredible names and guys who have done a lot for the game,” Estes said, adding the legends of the game have given credibility to the Wolf Pack baseball program and to its fundraising.
“Baseball is underappreciated as a college sport,” Estes pointed out. “I think basketball and football get all the funding, so baseball is sort of like the stepchild of college sports.”
Nevada baseball head coach T.J. Bruce, who grew up as a Dodgers fan, said Estes means much to baseball in Northern Nevada.
“What a career he’s had,” Bruce said.
Because of Estes situation where he decided not to attend Stanford and play pro ball, Bruce said the Douglas product can relate.
“He’s been through a lot of trials and tribulations as the guys have gone through,” Bruce added.
Bruce said the Bobby Dolan Dinner is a perfect venue for the greats of the game to speak to the younger players.
“This is one of the best events I’ve been to, and I love it,” he said.
Estes first talked to the team in a secluded room after meeting the media and then spoke at the dinner about his career, recounting some stories from his playing days and upbringing in a small community.
When pressed by reporters to recount some stories, Estes shied away, saying he would save those for another time.
A NEW ROLE
In a month, snow will be a distant memory for Estes as pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., not too far away from where Estes and his family live. The rest of the team will then follow, and games in the Cactus League begin in March. This is a prelude to what’s coming Estes’ way for the 2019 season. After providing analysis for about 80 games last year in the studio, Estes will join the Giants broadcasters on those days when longtime and legendary announcer Mike Krukow takes time off. Estes figures he could sit in the booth and work along the Giants broadcasting team of Jon Miller, Dave Flemming and Duane Kuiper.
Coincidentally, Krukow and Kuiper have ties to Reno. Krukow, a former Major League player who also played for San Francisco in the 1980s, now lives in Reno to be closer to his grandkids, and his son, Baker, played for the Wolf Pack baseball team and graduated in 2008. Krukow’s daughter, Tessa, graduated in 2007 and an older son, Jarek, a former volunteer assistant coach with the Wolf Pack, received his degree in 2006.
Kuiper, who signed with the Cleveland Indians in the early 1970s, played 124 games for the Reno Silver Sox in 1972 at the old Moana Stadium. The Silver Sox were a Single-A affiliate in the California League.
It may be both the Giants and Northern Nevada ties that help Estes ease into his new role with Emmy-awarding broadcasters and Cooperstown inductee Miller.
“I’m closer to Mike as a player because we could talk pitching,” Estes said. “It’s great Mike lives here now because his sons went here and his grandkids live here.”
Estes said he wants to get to know Kuiper better this season and pick his brain for pointers on how to become a better broadcaster and analyst. He wants to develop the chemistry between the veteran announcer and him as the season progresses.
“The whole battle as broadcasters is working with your partner,” Estes pointed out.
Being an analyst will also be a challenge for Estes, who said a wealth of information on players is available for him to use and break down so that he’s on the top of his game in the booth.
BORED AND RESTLESS
When Estes retired in March 2010, he wanted to take a summer off, but he quickly grew bored and restless. As a player, he met several people at COMCAST Bay Area, and one man told Estes to call him if he was interested in broadcasting. After he talked to the news director, Estes said his second career began to fall into place.
“F.P. Santangelo got a job with the Washington Nationals and did what I did, and that opened up a spot for me,” Estes said.
Santangelo, who played for the Montreal Expos, Los Angles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics and Giants during his career, moved across country to become the color analyst for the Washington Nationals’ telecasts.
“I did the pre- and postgames,” Estes recalled. “I didn’t think I was any good at it, and it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I thought it would be like dealing with an interviewer — like I’m doing right now — and I did this all the time. Now, it’s looking in a camera and talking to someone who isn’t there, and you’re supposed to pretend there’s an audience.”
Not only did Estes offer his expertise on the pre- and postgame programs for the Giants, but he also traveled to Reno to provide color analysis on a handful of televised Aces baseball games alongside the Voice of the Aces, Ryan Radtke, who did the play-by-play on my21 TV.
Estes, though, equates his early days of learning the broadcasting profession to how a baseball pitcher progresses over his career.
“As a player, I prepared myself to go out every fifth day and take the mound to beat another team,” Estes explained. “I felt very comfortable in doing that — that was second nature to me. I worked to get to that point, feeling confident when I took the mound.”
As a minor leaguer with the Mariners organization, Estes said he failed a lot to get better.
“That’s how I look at broadcasting,” Estes added. “I still feel a rush doing it. That is similar to baseball, breaking hitters down and analyzing.”
Estes said broadcasting has allowed him to stay close to the game and to continue working for a class organization for which he played six seasons. He said San Francisco is a great city, and by traveling to the City by the Bay, he said he escapes the heat of Phoenix.
“I get to go to San Francisco and breathe some fresh air,” he said.
THE NEVADA CONNECTION
Estes also worked alongside Matt Williams during the 2017 season.
Williams, who played high school baseball in Carson City in the 1980s, joined NBC Sports Bay Area this season as a studio analyst for the pre- and postgame shows that expanded to one hour.
During the 2018 season, Williams served as a third-base coach for the A’s, and Estes continued in his broadcasting role. He would stay several weeks in a nearby hotel near AT&T (now Oracle) Park, and occasionally his family would also accompany him.
In some ways, working with Williams was another dream come true. Although they faced each other in the Major Leagues, the idea of two former prep players who lived 13 miles from each other when they were younger was surreal. In professional baseball, though, Estes said Williams, whom he respected, was the best hitter he faced.
“He was the guy when I was going through middle school and high school,” Estes said, adding Williams was a first-round pick in the baseball draft. “I put him on a pedestal, and I had a chance to pitch to him.”
The tale of the Williams’ bat is something Estes tries to forget.
“He almost hit .500 off me, maybe more, and there was some damage done. Home runs, RBIs driven in.”
When Williams and Estes worked together on NBC Bay Area, Estes said host Dave Feldman would needle him and never let him forget how Williams owned him at the plate.
In looking back at his professional career, Estes said he fondly remembers the 1997 season when he posed a 19-5 record and the Giants won the National League West on the second-to-last day of the season. The previous year, though, is one Estes puts in the back of his mind. The Giants had lost almost 100 games, and Estes thought he didn’t want to be part of another team that struggled with wins and losses.
“Brian Sabean (then general manager) made some big moves,” Estes recollected. “Unfortunately, he had to trade away one of the most popular players in Matt Williams (for Jeff Kent, Julián Tavárez, and José Vizcaíno) to help our club. Nobody at that time thought that would work out, and it did. Brian established himself as a general manager who could make it work.”
The Giants also received J.T. Snow in a trade with the Angels and signed Damon Berryhill as a free agent.
Ownership put its faith into Sabean, and the Giants’ success almost 22 years ago put him on the map as well, said Estes. The Giants finished in first place in the National League West with a 90-72 record, two games ahead of the Dodgers. The Florida Marlins, though, swept the Giants in the National League Division Series in three games and eventually won the World Series. Estes considered the season as one his best because he had a role in helping San Francisco turn its season around and becoming a contender for the next six to seven years.
“We went from worst to first and going to the playoffs. It was pretty special,” Estes said. “It was a year I’ll never forget.”
During his career, Estes also pitched for the Mets, Reds, Cubs, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Padres in a 13-year Major League career. He compiled a pitching record of 101-93 in the big leagues with a 4.71 earned run average and in 2000 became the first Giants pitcher since 1949 to hit a grand slam.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Estes played in old ballparks and new, preferring to compete at Oracle Park and also Dodgers Stadium.
“I had a lot of success there,” Estes said to the astonishment of those listening to the interview. “I had one of my best games I ever pitched in my career. I also had my first hit, my first RBI and first win. Just the rivalry kept the energy going.”
Estes found the New York Mets’ Shea Stadium, which was demolished in 2009, as an enormous park, and then there’s windswept and chilly Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
“Nothing compares to it,” Estes said, smiling. “I made my San Francisco Giants and Major League debut there. It was my home park, and I didn’t know any better. I thought it was a great park, but it had its flaws. I thought it was a huge homefield advantage.”
Estes remembers those cold and windy evenings where hot dog wrappers and empty popcorn tubs would swirl in the stands, conditions a young Douglas High grad could withstand and may have experienced during those late night spring baseball games in Northern Nevada.
Not many players look to Candlestick with fondness, but Estes did: “I was young enough to stay strong and healthy, and being loose in those conditions. It was the best home field.”