3/6/2001 9:00 pm ET
Estes inspires kids to help fight
By Chris Shuttlesworth
Shawn Estes' best pitch isn't a knee-high fastball for an inning-ending strikeout. It's
his message to children about how they can help fight a serious disease.
Estes serves as a spokesperson for the annual Readathon sponsored by the
Northern California chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He records
public service announcements encouraging kids to participate, and he hosts the
champions from each county for a special day at the ballpark.
"When the Giants asked me what I wanted to get
involved with," said Estes, remembering his entry
into the big leagues in 1996, "I said MS because
my grandfather has had it for 20 years. It's a great
way to help not only my grandfather but millions of
"The kids get to bring their parents, and they put on
a nice little barbeque for them. I say hello, sign
autographs, and say a word or two. The top
readers get to come on the field, where I present
them with their awards."
In its 27th year, the Readathon is one of only six
still conducted by NMSS chapters nationwide. Last
year, 600 children from as far south as Monterey
and as far north as Napa, Sonoma and even
Humboldt County raised more than $160,000 for
the chapter's education, research and awareness
"We love having Shawn as part of the program and really appreciate everything
he's done for us. He's done a great job motivating the kids to get involved," said
Jaclyn Smoczynski, the Readathon coordinator.
Estes knows that many children probably know very little about MS or about how
much they are helping by participating in the Readathon. But the chance to meet a
Major League player and possibly even throw out the first pitch at a game pushes
many of them to participate.
"It's hard to give them the message about fighting diseases at such a young age.
So we give them some other incentive. Then when they come out to the park, I give
the message about my grandfather and how much it means to me that they
participated. To hear it from me seems to mean more than if a teacher says it.
When they're able to hear it from a baseball player, their ears perk up. Then they
hear how much I appreciate it, and it inspires them to do it again."
The program begins with
school visits by Multiple
awareness and introduce
the Readathon program
to the students. The
children then collect
pledges for every book
they read through March.
While the champions
from each county get
treated to the ballpark
visit, there are incentives
at every level for the
children who participate,
ranging from coupons to
local fun centers to Giants
player cards to cameras, CD players and bikes.
Estes also visits the top overall classroom and reads to the students there. In
addition to raising awareness of the disease, he also preaches the value of
reading in general.
"It's great to read books. Kids who enjoy reading books end up doing most of the
work, but they also try to get others involved. They all become more knowledgable
by reading books, so it kills two birds with one stone. We raise money for MS, and
the kids become better because of (reading)," said Estes, who received the 1999
Silver Hope Award at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Dinner of
Last year's Readathon coordinator, Kim Yafai, notes that while raising money and
educating children about MS is the program's primary goal, youngsters who
participate gain confidence in themselves.
"The look in their eyes when they get to meet the superstars is fantastic. They
might not have done it if they weren't huge baseball or Giants fans in the
beginning, and to get to meet their idols lets them know they can accomplish their
"They get to ask him questions about when he started to play baseball, his first
home run. They find out he was just a kid like them and he made it big time. That
tells them that you can do whatever you set your mind to. The kids leave with a
sense of greatness."
To find out more about how to participate in the Readathon, either as a reader or
as a sponsor, visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Northern California
chapter website at www.nmss-nocal.org.
Chris Shuttlesworth is the site editor for sfgiants.com and can be reached at