Turn on many Major League Baseball games these days and you can root, root, root for the home team — even if you live nowhere near the teams you’re watching. That’s because you can often also root for Santa Barbara’s own home team, the Foresters — or at least the many former players from that club now making their mark on the Big Leagues. In 2005, the Foresters boasted their first-ever Major League All-Star and first-ever former players in the World Series. Houston Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg was the former, and Ensberg and pitcher Chad Qualls were the latter. As the season begins again this summer, the rallying cry is “Who’s next?”
Who will follow in the cleat-steps of the 15 former Foresters who have spent time in “the Show”? Ryan Church and Ryan Spilborghs patrol the outfield for the Nationals and Rockies, respectively. Kevin Frandsen came up with the Giants this spring and scored three runs in his first game. Brian Bannister has started for the Mets this year; Tyler Walker is the closer for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. For fans who remember these guys from their youthful days in the Santa Barbara sun, it’s a special point of pride to know that we “knew them when.” The hardest part for longtime Foresters manager Bill Pintard is when one of his former players faces another. “Of course, that way, we win no matter what,” he said.
This summer, local fans can get a close-up view of tomorrow’s Major Leaguers today by heading out to Caesar Uyesaka Stadium beginning Thursday, June 8. The season actually began last Saturday, June 3, but it kicks into high gear this weekend with Coastal Collegiate League (CCL) action all weekend. New league member Santa Cruz is in town June 8 and 9, while two games with archrival Santa Maria Indians are on tap. Saturday’s game is at Santa Maria’s Elks Field, while the Sunday afternoon game is back here at UCSB. (See the box for a complete home schedule; visit www.sbforesters.org for more information.)
As always at Foresters games, the action on the field is top-shelf; some of the best college players in the country are heading west to hone their games and practice with wood bats (college players use aluminum bats; pros use wood, so if you want to have a shot at the bigs, you’d better learn to hit with — and pitch against — wood bats). And the action off the field is a blast, too, as numerous kid-friendly events and promotions are held throughout the games, which can also be heard all season long on AM1340.
In 2005, the Foresters were just six outs away from a national championship at the 72-year-old National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series, continuing an almost-but-not-quite streak that stretches to 2002. The Foresters have finished fourth, second, fourth, and second nationally over the past four seasons. However, with more returning players than ever this summer, hopes are very high indeed that this might be the year the team drops the “almost” label.
Among the returning players scheduled to join the team as soon as their college seasons are over are 2005 MVP DeAndre Miller, who set a single-season record with 71 hits last summer; outfielder Steve Susdorf, who led the 2005 squad with a .404 batting average; outfielder Nick Peoples, who first helped Texas win the 2005 NCAA baseball championship and then later became the first Forester ever to hit for the cycle. Other top returnees include utility star Taylor Holiday, speedy shortstop Hector Estrella, and UCSB’s own Mario Lewis. On the mound, look for 2005 Eric Pintard Award winner (for top Foresters pitcher) Alexander Francisco as well as 2005 ERA leader Bobby McEwen.
This larger-than-ever crop of returning players will infuse this summer’s team with a huge amount of Foresters spirit. They’ll continue not only the national championship-level play on the field, but the vital work of the Hugs for Cubs off the field. All the Foresters players give their time and energy to improving their skills and winning games, but they also participate fully in the team’s ongoing childhood cancer survivor support program.
Making young men better people, making college ballplayers into future Major Leaguers, and making fans of all ages remember how much they love this game … sounds like another great Foresters summer.