Sean Tracey‘s second fling with the Santa Barbara Foresters was brief, wild, and ultimately wonderful. Tracey, a pitcher who led the Foresters in earned-run-average in 2001 and later made it to the major leagues, returned to the mound at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium last Sunday. The right-hander faced the San Luis Obispo Rattlers in the top half of the seventh inning of a scoreless game.
He soon got into a load of trouble by walking a batter, hitting another, uncorking a wild pitch, and, with two out, issuing another walk to fill the bases. Tracey then fired a fastball over the next batter’s head all the way to the backstop. S.L.O. pinch-runner Matt Elliott headed home from third base. As Tracey rushed forward from the mound, his errant pitch rebounded right back to him, and he tagged Elliott out.
“That was some ‘EP 19’ intervention,” Foresters manager Bill Pintard said. “Thank you very much.” Pintard’s late son Eric (EP) was a pitcher who wore number 19 and initiated the club’s heartfelt commitment to young cancer patients. Maybe that is the source of the karma that seems to bestow favor on the Foresters.
Coming off a year in which they won the National Baseball Congress championship and were crowned the top summer league team in the country, the Foresters were 15-5 through last weekend. They swept three games from the Rattlers, who had been tied with them for first place in the California Collegiate League.
“We’re playing well, and we’re going to play better,” Pintard declared. The club’s roster is being filled out by several players who participated in the College World Series at Omaha. Arizona State outfielder Andy Workman arrived last Thursday and led off his first three games with base hits. His teammate Drew Maggi debuted at shortstop Saturday, started a double play the first time he touched the ball, got his uniform dirty with a headfirst slide, had an RBI single, and scored the winning run in a 4-3 victory over the Rattlers.
Maggi may move to second base soon, as Pintard is expecting Texas shortstop Brandon Loy to join the Foresters. Loy started as a freshman in all 67 games for the Longhorns, who were runners-up in Omaha. UCSB’s Matt Valaika has done a good job in the middle infield, but the new arrivals may hasten his decision to sign with the Cincinnati Reds, who selected the junior in the amateur draft.
Pitching standouts include A.J. Griffin of San Diego, who had not allowed a run in 17 innings, and Chris Joyce, the UCSB freshman from Dos Pueblos High who is coming off a nine-month layoff. “He’s starting to get the rust off,” Pintard said of Joyce, who threw six shutout innings in his last start.
Tracey was a temporary member of the pitching staff. The 28-year-old, who had an eventful stint with the Chicago White Sox in 2006 (his failure to hit an opposing batter with a retaliatory pitch drew manager Ozzie Guillen‘s ire), is an Angels minor-leaguer trying to work his way back from an injury.
One of the Foresters’ most formidable positions is behind the plate. Pintard says his assistant coach Casey Cloud is “the best catching instructor in the country.” Cloud, a Santa Barbara native, played catcher for the Foresters in 1997 after going to the College World Series with UCLA. He teaches baseball year-round in his hometown and runs the Foresters’ summer camps. The club’s recent catchers included Danny Grubb, who won the national championship with Fresno State last year, and Cameron Rupp, this year’s Texas backstop.
“Guys respond to the environment here,” said Cloud, who mans the third base coaching box when the Foresters are hitting. “There’s a lot of competition. They realize they have to go hard.” Among his young catching proteges this summer are Oklahoma-bound Patric Tolentino and Beau Maggi, who will join his brother Drew at Arizona State.
An example of Cloud’s tutelage was Tolentino’s pickoff throw that nailed a Palm Springs Power runner at first base last week. It was the final out of a game the Foresters won by a run.
The Foresters have been drawing kid-friendly crowds in the 400-500 range, and there are plenty of opportunities to see them this month. They face the Conejo Oaks today (Thu., July 2) and the SoCal Black Sox Friday (both 5pm at UCSB). On Saturday, they come downtown for their annual 4th of July game at Pershing Park, starting at 4:30 p.m. against the San Jose Seals. On Sunday, it’s the Seals again at 1 p.m. at UCSB, and on July 8-12, the Foresters will host the Rawlings California Cup tournament.