By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
Never one to bask in the limelight, Mike Estes was quick to deflect some of the glory to others concerning his recent induction into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s a great honor,” the former Hokes Bluff baseball coach said. “But that’s not something you shoot for. You just go about your business and if you get honored, so be it.”
Estes, who along with 11 other inductees was honored at the induction banquet on Mar. 18, estimated the size of the crowd was at or close to 1,000 people.
When it comes to baseball, there are very few coaches on par with Estes. He finished a 34-year career with some impressive statistics.
Estes’ teams compiled a 606-299 record that included nine state championships, two state runner-up teams and three state semifinalists.
Doing the math, that includes 14 teams that made it to at least the final four in their classification.
Estes is already a member of the Etowah County Sports Hall of Fame and the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Other honors for Estes include the National Federation of High Schools 2005 Baseball Coach of the Year, the 2005 Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Award of Merit and the Sammy Dunn Memorial Award in 2008.
Again, Estes deflected the attention to others.
“As far as coaching, it was a three-way split,” he said. “Coach (David ‘Stump’) Wright and Steve Shields were invaluable. There’s not a better pitching coach in the state than Shields. His coaching the pitchers kept me from having to do it, and I’m not very good at that aspect.”
As for Shields, he makes it known quickly that Estes deserves every award he’s been given.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a coach who put more effort into the game,” Shields said. “Whatever it took, he did it. And that’s a large part of why he was so successful.”
Estes started for three years on the Hokes Bluff baseball team, then played for Jacksonville State University. He was hired as a math teacher at Hokes Bluff in the fall of 1974 and the spring of the same scholastic year, was given the baseball coaching job.
“When I was getting ready to start college, my parents told me I should become a teacher,” Estes said. “I wanted to be an engineer, to earn more money. But that didn’t work out, as I was better at math than at engineering.”
Estes said he was watching a Hokes Bluff High baseball game during his senior year at JSU when Ray Campbell, the school’s principal at the time, told him that there might be a math job opening the next year. Things fell into place, and Estes was hired not long after graduating.
“I never planned to coach anything,” he said. “But in those days, almost every male teacher coached something. That fall and winter, I helped with a couple of junior high teams. Then they asked me if I wanted to coach baseball, and I told them I’d give it a try.”
Wright was hired midway through that school year, and a lasting duo was formed. Wright coached with Estes throughout, with the exception of three years when he helped at Pleasant Valley High because his son was a player there.
Shields pitched on the program’s first three state championship teams in 1975, ‘76 and ‘77.
Following his high school career, Shields was drafted by the Atlanta Braves and wound up playing six seasons for five major league different teams before coming on board Estes’ coaching staff.
“(Estes) was always there for his players,” Shields said. “He would jump them for mistakes, but he was their biggest advocate if they were in the right. Everyone knew where he stood and the kids bought into that and into his baseball theories.”
Any coach would love to be able to say he started his career with three straight state titles and ended it with six consecutive championships – and that is Estes’ legacy.
The Eagles won state crowns from 2003-08. Estes retired following the ‘08 season.
Estes also credited the five principals he worked for over the years. Following Campbell, Roger Porter led the school. Mike Bailey, John Serafini and Jeff Lasseter were all very supportive of the athletic programs and Estes said that all three were “great to work for. You couldn’t ask for better principals.”
The community also got a nod, as Estes said he never had a problem getting community support.
Estes never lost his love of the game. He pitched every pitch of batting practice, right up until the end.
“If you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t be able to tell if he had been out there for 34 years or if this was his first or second season,” Shields said. “Because of the excitement he brought to the field, a whole lot of it rubbed off on the players. They saw him having fun, so they had fun.”
“Coach Estes is able to identify the type of person a player is and work with it,” said Nick Wheeler, who graduated in 2005 and went on to play at West Alabama after playing two years at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College. “He can make that work for the player and he really make a team play united. He’s as much of a friend as a coach, on and off the field. I feel so lucky to have played for him.”
“He fits his personality to the team,” said Tyler Stovall, who was a two-time Class 3A Player of the Year and won the Mr. Baseball award as a senior before being drafted by the Atlanta Braves. “Each team has a little different personality – either a lot of jokers, a laidback team or some real serious types. Coach Estes can pinpoint that personality and work off of it.”