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Talent, desire will get you to major league

Sheila Gardner

If there is a lesson to be learned from the success of standout Giants pitcher Shawn Estes, it’s this: If you have the talent and the desire, you will get a chance in the big leagues no matter where you’re from.

Estes, 24, a 1991 Douglas High School graduate, is quickly moving up the short list of National League pitchers for the July 8 All-Star game based on a 11-2 win record with seven victories in a row.

“I would find it unimaginable that he wouldn’t be put on the All-Star team,” said Rick Kester, Estes’ pitching coach at DHS and a former Major Leaguer himself.

“He’s a smart kid and he works hard. He wants to be successful and he is. It’s to his credit that he’s done it. What he’s done this year is exceptionally rare. I doubt there are very many pitchers in the big leagues who after only a partial year end up with an 11-2 record. It’s exceptionally rare having that kind of first half season.”

The National League roster was announced Tuesday with the pitchers to be selected today for the All-Star game in Cleveland.

“It’s got to be an extreme honor for Shawn,” said Kester, Douglas County School District business manager. “Big league baseball players come from all over – small towns and large towns – it’s really about talent and desire. Even if you are from a small place, the major leagues will find you. They don’t miss anybody.”

Kester said Estes’ phenomenal success the first half of the season is a reflection of the 24-year-old’s hard work.

The first time Kester saw Estes pitch, the Giants’ standout was a 13-year-old with a curve ball. His father, T.C. Estes, took his son to Kester to coach the Little Leaguer’s pitching.

“The only thing that’s really memorable that first day … is that I was teaching him how to throw a curve ball. I’ve worked with a lot of kids about how to throw a good curve ball. Shawn had the kind of wrist that can impart that memorable breaking ball. Right from the beginning, he really could do that.”

Kester said there is nothing overnight about Estes’ success.

“I think Shawn had a couple of really rough years in the minor leagues. What you’re seeing right now is the culmination of a lot of hard work, not necessarily in the majors because he wasn’t there. He’s grown up, he’s matured. He’s struggled at times mentally, dealing with the adversity that comes to you all the time in the big leagues,” Kester said.

Barring injuries, Kester envisions the brightest of futures for Estes.

“It will be interesting to see the end of this year if the Giants negotiate a long-term pact with him to try to tie up his talent.

“I think of all the things I like about Shawn, I’m proudest of him for that mental part of his approach. He doesn’t take himself too seriously like he did in high school. He’s made great strides in personal behavior. When he comes back home, he takes time to talk to people. He’s evolved into a fine young man. He deserves what he’s getting right now.

“It’s really true, when you have the kind of stuff Shawn has, pitching is simple. It’s no more complicated than that. He doesn’t need to think too much. When adversity comes and results in the bases loaded and nobody out, he buckles down and is able to throw good pitches.”

What Estes has, Kester said, is “an exceptional fast ball at 92-95 mph, one of the best curve balls I’ve ever seen in my life and a good change-up. If you have three good pitches like he has, it comes down to simply to throwing strikes.”

Kester also has nearly a 30-year friendship with Giants manager Dusty Baker dating from their minor league days together in South Carolina.

“When I finished at UCLA, I was sent to play A ball in Greenwood, S.C. and Dusty was a skinny little kid from Sacramento. We played together for four years or so.”

To former DHS coach Hal Wheeler, Shawn Estes is “basically the most intense person I ever coached.”

“He expected a lot out of himself and was pretty much a perfectionist. He didn’t accept failure, which motivated him to work harder than everybody else. Basically, his demeanor is probably the contributing factor to him going so far in baseball,” said Wheeler.

“It’s mind-boggling what he’s doing now. I think he’ll be in the All-Star game, he might get a shot at starting,” Wheeler said. “People around the league have really opened their eyes about his talent.”

Wheeler, who is raising two baseball players in his own family and coaches the Nevada Yankees, said Estes’ success is a good teaching tool.

“I think the message is that you get out exactly what you put into it. Ninety minutes of practice a day is not going to get you into the big leagues. You work on it 12 months a year, and Shawn did do that,” Wheeler said. “He’d set a goal for himself, and he’d stay in the bull pen till he’d met it.

“Shawn hasn’t reached his ceiling. He’ll do nothing but get better and better. If he stays healthy, there is no end to what he could do. He’s maturing as a person, he does realize baseball is a team sport and a lot of other people are involved in his success,” Wheeler said.

“T.C. and Sue (Estes) raised him right. He doesn’t mind signing baseballs for free when a lot of other guys are selling their autographs. As a community, we can be very, very proud of Shawn,” Wheeler said.

An added bonus has been Estes playing for the Giants which puts him within driving distance of his family and fans when the team plays at home.

“I think it’s wonderful for his family and this community that he ended up in San Francisco,” said Kester. “If he were back east, not as many people would be able to see him. His family goes all the time. On the nights he pitches, they’re regular customers at 3-Com.”

Can any kid grow up to be Shawn Estes?

“I think my message to kids is you need to be realistic,” Kester said. “Not everybody has Shawn Estes’ talent. I think parents should be realistic and kids should work hard to try to develop their talent. I see parents put way too much pressure on certain kids. I kind of come at it from another point of view. You play sports and Little League for fun. You should play hard and play to win, but not put too much pressure on kids.

“I think Shawn knows this now. Baseball – any game – is supposed to be fun. Even when it becomes a job, it still needs to be fun.”