Here’s the deal when you sign up with the Santa Barbara Foresters: You get to spend two months playing baseball in a pleasant coastal climate and then two steaming August weeks in Wichita, Kansas. The latter assignment may seem like punishment, but actually it is a reward and an opportunity to win a national championship.
The Foresters will load up their bus next week to make their 16th consecutive trek to the National Baseball Congress World Series (NBC). They are among 44 semipro teams, primarily stocked by college ballplayers, set to compete in the tournament that has been held for 74 summers alongside the Arkansas River at Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Santa Barbara is the only West Coast team to win the NBC title in the last quarter of a century, bringing home the trophy two years ago. Last summer, the Foresters reached the semifinals, where they were eliminated in a 7-6 loss to the eventual champion, Havasu Heat.
It is not a given that the Foresters will contend for the championship because every year the roster is almost entirely new. Manager Bill Pintard has proven a master at picking up players from around the country and developing a team spirit.
“The skipper has to set the tone,” said outfielder Andre Miller, the only current player who was on the 2006’s championship squad. “A lot of coaches make it too difficult. Keep it loose and relaxed, provide some enthusiasm, and it allows people to perform at their best.”
A three-game series in Havana against the Cuban national team, although a wonderful opportunity, put a strain on the Foresters in late June. Not unexpectedly, they lost three games, but they kept the score close in two of them. Meanwhile, they had to play several league games with a split squad, and then a number of players came home from Cuba with lingering stomach disorders. Santa Barbara went into July with a record of 12-12-maybe okay in the National League West, but not up to the Foresters’ standards. They had slipped to fourth place in the California Collegiate League.
“We faced a lot of adversity,” Pintard said. “A summer baseball blog was asking what’s wrong with the Foresters. We had to work through it.”
Their first order of business was to qualify for the NBC World Series. They did so by winning the week-long Rawlings California Cup tournament. That began a 13-game winning streak, including a four-game sweep of the San Luis Obispo Rattlers that vaulted the Foresters to the top of the league standings. They clinched their 15th pennant in 16 years by winning a series against the Major League Baseball-sponsored Urban Youth Academy at UCSB last Sunday.
The Foresters were busy during the last weekend of the regular season. Besides playing three games, they took childhood cancer survivors on a surfing expedition Saturday and to the bowling alley Sunday. The program is known as “Hugs for Cubs.” They’ll take it on the road when they visit young cancer patients at Via Christi Hospital in Wichita.
“I can sum up being a Forester in one word: fun,” said Chad Mozingo, a peppery outfielder from Rice University who has been a sparkplug this summer, hitting .470 at leadoff. Other key players have been shortstop Sean Nicol (U of San Diego), third baseman Ryan Goetz (UC Riverside), and a pair of UCSB Gauchos on the right side of the infield: second baseman Steve Cook and first baseman Eric Oliver.
The Texas Longhorns contributed catcher Cameron Rupp and outfielder Kevin Keyes, a strapping 6’4″ and 225-pounder who leads the club in homeruns with seven and is 13-13 in stolen base attempts. The run-happy Foresters have swiped 110 bases in 48 games. Miller is 15-15 on the basepaths.
Pintard’s biggest concern going to Wichita is the depth of his pitching. The staff was led during the season by Missouri’s Ian Berger (4-1), Jacksonville’s Carson Andrew (4-0), and USC’s Ryan Cook (4-0). But the Foresters have lost Cook to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Dos Pueblos High phenom Chris Joyce is a question mark after arthroscopic surgery.