Last August the Santa Barbara Foresters won their third National Baseball Congress Championship in five years. The 2011 Foresters had a record of 36-13 on the season, winning the California Collegiate League for the 17th time in 18 years. Despite recognizing the success of last years’ team, Foresters manager Bill Pintard is focused on this year.
“This is the 2012 version of the Foresters, not the 2011 or 2010 version,” Pintard explained, “Every year there is a big turnover of players, so every year we start back at square one.”
Of the 38-man roster, just nine players are returning from last year, and only three of those nine are position players. This leaves a big task for the coaching staff, and will require the new players to learn to play together quickly.
Players come from colleges all over the country to play for the Foresters, arriving but four days before the games start. That gives Pintard and the rest of the coaching staff a few opportunities to greet all the new players, and watch them play before games start.
Pintard describes the arrival of new players as something of a treat. “It’s kind of like Christmas, because a lot of these players I haven’t seen play yet.”
As far as team goals go, they will always be the same. Win the CCL title, the California Rawlings Cup tournament, and compete for a national title. But the coaches know that players come to the Foresters to get better during the summer, and that is the first priority.
“Our first responsibility is to get these players better when they come here,” Pintard said. “We want these guys to work on their weaknesses and fine-tune their skills so we can send them back to their school a better player, and hopefully they have a chance to get drafted.”
On an exceptionally young team with nine freshman and 18 sophomores and just three seniors, player development is going to be key. Part of the excitement of the summer league is in the condensed schedule, and starting Friday, June 1, the Foresters play six days a week. But this makes the coaches’ jobs even harder, requiring more in-game coaching, and adjustments on the fly.
With such a tight pre-season, and games being played almost every day, the Foresters will rely on the returning players to help the team succeed early. Among those few returning to the Foresters is UCSB junior centerfielder Brett Vertigan, who led the Big West conference in batting average, hits, triples, and stolen bases. Vertigan scored the only run in last year’s NBC championship game, and will try to help the Foresters repeat as national champs.
Despite losing five pitchers in the last week to what Pintard described as “injury, grades and life,” the Foresters anticipate being in the fight for another championship year, and are excited about all the new players coming in.
Pintard recognizes that there is pressure on the Foresters to live up to their winning tradition. There is little doubt they have become somewhat of a dynasty, and are certainly the team with a target on their backs. But as Pintard states, “We would rather it be on our backs than somebody else’s”.
The Foresters open their 2012 season today and this weekend at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium against the San Diego Waves. Season tickets are sold on their website http://sbforesters.org/ for $99.