They’re called the ‘Sters, which is more than an abbreviated nickname for the Santa Barbara Foresters. It is a homonym for the way they play: They stir up things on the baseball diamond.
Bill Pintard, the semi-pro team’s manager for 13 years, has adopted a daring recipe that took the Foresters to the championship of the 2006 National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series. “Our manifesto is going hard,” said Pintard. “We rely on pitching, defense, speed, and situational hitting. We show the video of Jackie Robinson running the bases. We steal third a lot. We steal home. We get thrown out a lot. It’s against the book. But it’s awesome to play that way. There are only two ways to score from second, but 10 ways to score from third. We don’t sit back and wait for a three-run homer.”
The ‘Sters ran their foes dizzy in the wee hours of the NBC tournament in sultry Wichita last August. Four of their games started after 1 a.m. They went 7-0 in the series and knocked off the local favorite Derby (Kansas) Twins 8-7 to clinch the first NBC title won by a California team in 25 years.
A churning dogpile of players marked the end of the Foresters’ 50-14 season. It was the Big Bang in reverse. The summer started with selected players drifting into Santa Barbara from colleges in California, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and other states-plus Alex Francisco, a pitcher from the Dominican Republic-and they wound up so close as a team you could have covered them with a tarp inside the diamond.
Developing that hard-to-define quality known as team chemistry once again is the challenge that awaits Pintard, associate head coach Pat Burns, and their staff as the 2007 season approaches. There is almost a complete turnover of position players from last year’s lineup.
Opening day is Saturday, June 2, at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Right-hander Andy Groves is slated throw the first pitch for the Foresters against the Oceanside Waves at 4:30 p.m. The same two teams will face off at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
This will be the 17th consecutive season since Bob Townsend started the Foresters in 1991. He named them after a ‘50s team sponsored by the Foresters Lodge. Within a couple years, they qualified for the NBC World Series. As defending champions, they will make their 15th straight appearance in Wichita this summer.
Here is a glance at the upcoming season.
THE SCHEDULE: The Foresters will play 31 home games, all but two at UCSB. On July 3, they will host the California Oaks at Carpinteria High, and their annual July 4 game at Pershing Park will be against the Santa Maria Indians, a longtime Central Coast rival. The Indians pushed the Foresters in the California Collegiate League (CCL) last year, finishing a game out of first place at 24-12 behind Santa Barbara’s 25-11. Other teams in the CCL this year are the Oaks (from Thousand Oaks), the San Luis Obispo Blues, the Monterey Bay Sox, and the Clovis Outlaws. The Foresters will stage two tournaments, the Maxim Best of the West (June 21-23), which winds up with the championship game at Stanford on June 24; and the NBC California Cup (July 12-15). The NBC World Series starts July 31 and concludes August 12.
THE PLAYERS: The most exciting names in the projected Foresters lineup are Texas outfielders Jordan Danks and Kyle Russell. They have led the Longhorns into the NCAA tournament with a No. 5 national ranking. Both are tall (6‘5”), rangy fielders and are hitting around .350. Russell may change Pintard’s thinking about the long ball. He hit a Texas-record 27 home runs in 56 regular-season games. Barring a pro contract (Russell is eligible for the major league draft) or a Team U.S.A. offer, both are committed to join the Foresters after their college postseason.
Pintard and Burns have effectively used the summer-in-Santa-Barbara lure while fishing for talent. More importantly, they have earned the trust of influential college coaches like Augie Garrido of Texas. “We take care of their players,” Pintard said. “We write up reports on the players and send them to the coaches. We used to get redshirt players from Texas or Wichita State. Now we get starters.”
Catcher Danny Grubb (Fresno State) is Santa Barbara’s lone returning player other than pitchers. Scott Clement (UCSD) is another starting college backstop, and Carlos Ramirez is a junior college catcher from Tucson. Rebel Ridling (Oklahoma State) and Andy Preston (Purdue) are a pair of solid first basemen. Leadoff batter Justin Snyder (USD) at second and Josh Prince (Texas) at shortstop have big shoes to fill-Hector Estrella and Jordy Mercer were outstanding for last year’s Foresters. Erik Castro (Arizona) will man third. Other infield prospects include Michael Glomb (LMU), Michael Torres (USC), and Brandon Young (LACC via Carpinteria).
Candidates to patrol the outfield besides Danks and Russell include a pair of players off SBCC’s championship team, Jon DeAlba and David Harris. Others are Roberto Lopez (USC), Kenny Williams Jr. (Wichita State), and late addition Devin Shepherd (Oklahoma).
Groves is one of four returning pitchers, all right-handers. The others are Drew Bishop, a Texas reliever; Chris Bodishbaugh (Fresno State), who has appeared in two NBC World Series for the Foresters; and Tanner Scheppers (Fresno State), who is being promoted to a starting role. Southpaws added to the staff includeAnthony Capra (Wichita State), Eric Eadington (Harvard), Alex Sogard (Oregon State), Evan Reed (Cal Poly), and Derrick Saito (Cal Poly). Saito went 3-0 for the Santa Maria Indians last year. Right-hander Wes Etheridge (UC Irvine) led the Big West Conference with an 11-4 record as of last week. Jason Zinser (UCLA) stands tall (6‘8”) on the mound.
Two outstanding South Coast high school players, Santa Barbara senior Crosby Slaught and Dos Pueblos junior Chris Joyce, will bolster the Foresters’ lineup early in the season before many of the college stars are done with the NCAA tournament. Both played the infield and pitched for their teams. “It’s a great experience for them to be around older ballplayers,” Pintard said.
Another of the Foresters’ selling points is the number of their former players who made it to the big leagues. The total is now 21, including Ryan Spilborghs and Virgil “Matt” Vasquez, another pair of hometown high schoolers. Spilborghs is hitting over .300 as a Colorado Rockies outfielder, and Vasquez was a starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in a one-game call-up from Triple-A ball.
COMMUNITY OUTREACH: As excited as he was to win the NBC World Series, Pintard takes even more pride in the Foresters’ involvement with young cancer patients. The program, dubbed Hugs for Cubs, was founded by Bill’s son, Eric Pintard, a Foresters pitcher and coach who endured a long fight with cancer. He died in 2004.
The Foresters also place their out-of-town players with host families, which serves two purposes: It saves them considerable housing expense, and it brings them closer to the community. Pintard requested that residents interested in hosting a player call the Foresters at 684-0657.
If all the ingredients come together, two months from now the ‘Sters will be boarding their bus for the 30-hour trip to Wichita, a journey they hope will end in another big dogpile.