Ken Caminiti could be intimidating. Especially if you were a young pitcher.
Shawn Estes faced Ken Caminiti's wrath -- and was proud to earn his respect.
Shawn Estes wanted to back Steve Finley off the plate.
That was the Giants pitcher’s goal, anyway, until the ball sailed during a June 24, 1997 game against the Padres and hit Finley on the elbow.
Finley thought the beanball was on purpose, retribution for his three-homer game the previous day, so he jawed at the rookie as he jogged to first base. And then the on-deck batter, Ken Caminiti, started yelling at Estes, too.
Ken was a player you didn’t want to mess with. Fighting with Ken was like trying to wrestle a bear or kick a hornet’s nest. Not a fight you wanted to start. Ken grounded out to end the inning, at which point he exchanged further words with Estes.
In the second inning, it was Estes’ turn to hit against Padres pitcher Danny Jackson, and he knew what was coming.
“Fortunately (Jackson) didn't throw as hard at that point in his career,” Estes told me during a 2015 interview.
Jackson plunked Estes on the thigh, and Estes gritted his teeth, lowered his helmet and jogged to first base. The Giants got a rally going, and as Estes advanced around the bases, station to station, he feared getting to third base — Caminiti was there.
“I can remember getting to third base and thinking, ‘well, this is the one spot I didn't want to have to end up, over here by Caminiti,’” he said.
Estes ended up scoring without another confrontation.
He went on to pitch a gem, going eight innings and surrendering one run in a 4-1 Giants win. After the game, he was with his parents near the players’ parking lot when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
It was Ken.
Estes warned his father to be wary if things went south. Was Ken going to pulverize him? Yell some more? Give him a death stare?
Ken didn’t do any of those things.
“Regardless of if you hit Finley intentionally or not, I know what your purpose was. The fact that you didn’t react to getting hit, took your base and went on to pitch a hell of a game, I just want you to know that that’s the way the game’s played, and I have a lot more respect for you now, and good luck to you,” Ken told him.
The encouragement meant the world to Estes, who was in his first full season.
“I thought that was pretty cool to hear that, and I came back to my dad with a big sigh of relief — that went a lot better than I thought it was going to go,” Estes said.
Estes finished the year 19-5 and made the All-Star team, where he crossed paths with Ken again, this time as teammates for the National League squad.
Estes ended up pitching in the majors until 2008, and as the years passed, he came across fewer and fewer throwback players like Ken.
“The more I played the game, the more I understood that those type of players were diminishing. He may be one of the last generation of the old-school player mentality,” Estes said.
“This was a true baseball player.”