Five hours into their ride home from the 80th National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series in Wichita, Kansas, the Santa Barbara Foresters stopped for dinner along U.S. Highway 54 in the Oklahoma panhandle. Online reviews of the establishment were not kind: “Bad service, bad food & ugly joint.” … “I have never walked out of a restaurant until today.”
“Those people were probably grumpy because they didn’t have a national championship trophy sitting in their bus,” Bill Pintard said. “Let me give you our review: ‘We are hungry, and it is food.’”
It was just like Pintard to put a positive spin on the meal. He has been unfailingly upbeat during his 20 years as manager of the Foresters, a summertime baseball team for college-age players. They have won more than 800 games and qualified every year for the NBC World Series, where they have captured five championships since 2006. They need one more to tie the Fairbanks (Alaska) Goldpanners, who won six titles between 1972 and 2002, as the winningest team in Wichita.
They worked overtime to secure their latest triumph last Saturday night against the Seattle Studs, the defending champions. The Foresters, twice facing one-run deficits, tied the score at 2-2 and won the title game in 12 innings, 3-2.
So Pintard has another trophy to put on display next summer at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, but the best thing he took away from the weeklong tournament was the memory of “the most incredible play I’ve ever seen. It will be etched in my mind forever.”
THE PLAY: During the tournament, the Foresters had lost every pregame coin flip to determine the home team. From the ninth inning onward in the title game, they were on a high-wire without a net. Seattle had a potential winning run on second base with two outs in the bottom of the 10th. Relief pitcher Troy Cruz delivered a high fastball that slugger Bobby LeCount lined into center field. “I thought it was over,” Cruz said. “We lost.”
Center fielder Jaylin Davis charged the ball. “C’mon, Jaylin!” urged Pintard, who had positioned the outfielders shallower than usual — a crucial strategic detail. “C’mon, Jaylin!” Davis fielded the ball and fired toward home plate as Seattle’s Connor Savage rounded third.
“I thought Jaylin’s throw was going to hit the back of the mound,” catcher A.J. Kennedy said. “But it came off the top, to the right of the plate. I wasn’t thinking about the score. Just make the play.”
Kennedy lunged to his left and put the tag on Savage. “A.J. rolled over and showed the ump the ball,” Pintard said. “I observe the surroundings more as I enter the twilight of my run. The fans were all on their feet, roaring and pumping their fists and flailing their arms in the air. That play was Montana-to-Clark for the Foresters.”
Kennedy said, “It didn’t hit me until I was in the dugout that we prevented a walk-off game.” Cruz had gone from despair to elation. He went back to the mound and finished off Seattle in the bottom of the 12th after Granger Studdard’s RBI double had given the Foresters their only lead of the game.
THE PLAYERS: They came to Santa Barbara in late May from all over the country, hand-picked by Pintard after checking them out with college coaches, with whom he had developed a mutual trust over the years.
Lou Panizzon, who gave Pintard a coaching job at Carpinteria High several decades ago, compared his building of the Foresters to the methodology of Herb Brooks, coach of the storied 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, who said: “I’m not interested in getting the best players; I’m interested in getting the right players.” Panizzon observed, “Bill gets the right players and molds them into a team by the time they go to Kansas.”
Gary Woods, a former major leaguer who has been on the Foresters’ coaching staff since 2006, said, “Bill’s overriding trait is that he really cares about his players. That influences them to rally around their teammates.”
Dylan Axelrod, a pitcher for the 2006 Foresters, said many players see summer ball as a time “to goof off and make some artificial friends. But it was different for me on the Foresters. I still have friends from that team. That bond starts with Pinner. He brings excitement every day.”
The 2014 Foresters — all but two of them new to the club — said much the same thing Monday when they arrived at the end of the 27-hour bus ride. It was the last time many of them will be together. “Every day was a joy,” said Kennedy, the catcher from Fullerton. “It was baseball and life lessons.” Jon Duplantier, a strapping pitcher from Rice University who was named MVP of the NBC World Series, said, “It was an awesome summer. Bill teaches life. This was the best thing that could’ve happened to me at the best time.” Duplantier is a good bet to follow the 30 Foresters who have gone on to play in the major leagues, including Kansas City’s ace pitcher James Shields.
THE PASSION: “Pinner leads the league in passion,” said Mick Kelleher, a longtime friend of Pintard who has been the New York Yankees’ first-base coach the past six seasons. “It’s a great story, what he’s accomplished with the Foresters. He gets the most out of his players because they can see how much he loves the game.”
Pintard’s mainstream profession is in real estate. Besides managing the Foresters, he moonlights as an amateur scout for the Yankees, the team of his youth. He was born in Queens, N.Y., and grew up in Ridgewood, N.J. “There was a baseball field across the street from my home,” he said. “We’d play another neighborhood in a ‘World Series.’ We’d handwrite the numbers on our shirts.” His mother, Kathryn Pintard, was once a secretary for the Wilkes-Barre Barons and was squired by future Yankees manager Bob Lemon. “She came to a lot of my games,” he said. “My father [Herb] was a hardworking guy in construction. He used to catch me until he took one in the shins and said, ‘Hell with that.’”
The family moved to California when Bill was in high school. He pitched for an Arcadia team that won the CIF 4A championship in 1965. He played on a Citrus College team that was one of the state’s best, but at Gonzaga University his career was curtailed by a back injury. He never played pro ball. Eventually he channeled his love for the game into coaching.
Pintard got involved with the Foresters when his son, Eric, a Carpinteria High graduate, pitched for the club. In the great tragedy of his life, Eric was stricken by cancer and died in 2004 after surviving for 10 spirited years. Eric started the Hugs for Cubs program through which the Foresters provide baseball therapy to children with cancer. No appearance in Wichita is complete without the team’s visit to a cancer ward. “It fills a void I had since I lost my son,” Pintard said of his extended coaching career. “It reminds me of the good times I had with him on the baseball field.”
He recently dealt with another loss. Bill and his younger brother, Dave, visited their ailing mother in Pasadena on July 25. Kathryn died five days later when Bill was en route to Wichita with the Foresters. She was 94. “Bill wondered if he should fly home from Albuquerque,” Dave said. “I said, ‘Heck no. Bring back a national championship.’”
Pintard’s success was recognized last Thursday when, after the Foresters defeated the San Diego Waves in an elimination game at Wichita, he was inducted into the NBC Hall of Fame. He’s in the same company with quite a list of baseball names, including Whitey Herzog, Ralph Houk, Billy Martin, Satchel Paige, Tom Seaver, Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn, Kirk Gibson, and Robin Ventura.
Pintard’s wife, Kris, and younger daughter, Kelby, 14, showed up on the field for the induction announcement, which came as a surprise to him “He’s a celebrity in Wichita,” said Kris, who flies out for the World Series most years. If she didn’t attend his games, she wouldn’t see much of Bill during the summer. And she expects him to be ready to welcome a new crop of Foresters for the 2015 season.
“I still have a fire in my belly,” Pintard said. “My wife is the offspring of Bill Bertka. What do we know about retiring?” Kris’s father, Bertka, who just turned 87, still works as a scout and consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers. Pintard is 67.
“He can’t retire now,” Kris said. “He has a title to defend.”