The “dog days of summer” — a hot, sweaty stretch from early July to mid-August — are considered grueling in Major League Baseball. The hopes of spring have dissolved into losing streaks for many teams, and the pennant races are dragging along before September showdowns.
But these are the joyful “dog-pile days” for the Santa Barbara Foresters. For the seventh time since 2006, this team of fresh college boys flung themselves into a heap on the diamond at Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium after winning the championship of the National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series.
“It’s historic,” said manager Bill Pintard after the Foresters pushed across a run in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the NJCAA National Team, 6-5, in the title game last Saturday.
Making their 26th consecutive appearance in Wichita — a tournament record — the Foresters have won more titles than any other team in the 84 years that the NBC has hosted teams from across the country since 1935.
“Look at their history,” Pintard said. “They integrated baseball 12 years before the major leagues.” Legendary pitcher Satchel Paige was the headliner in the first NBC World Series, leading his touring team from Bismarck, North Dakota, to the championship.
The winning teams generally came from the Midwest. The first California champion was the Carmichael Firemen in 1946. The next was the Santa Maria Indians in 1979. The Foresters went winless in their first appearance in 1993. For the next decade, they knocked on the door until their breakthrough in 2006. With one exception, even years have been championship years for Santa Barbara: 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018.
The Foresters have surely won with talent, but even more so with infectious, fun-loving, positive attitudes. They have pulled through many times in desperate situations. Three outs away from elimination in the quarterfinals last Thursday, they scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the San Diego Stars, 7-6.
They were ready to celebrate Saturday when they took a 5-2 lead into the ninth inning. But a flurry of ball-four calls enabled the junior college all-stars to tie the score. “We know how cruel this game can be,” Pintard said. But the Foresters did not suffer for long, as they parlayed Logan Allen’s single, two-hit batters and Patrick Mathis’s bases-loaded walk into a dog pile.
Mathis, one of five players Pintard recruited to replace injured Foresters, was named the series’s Most Valuable Player. Allen, who had Santa Barbara’s first and last hits of the tournament, was voted 2018 Foresters MVP by the team. Brett Standlee received the Eric Pintard Trophy as the top pitcher. Ryan Cash, who had the game-winning RBI in the quarterfinals, and Utah Jones were given coaches’ awards.
No team will ever equal Santa Barbara’s seven trophy ceremonies in the 84-year home of the NBC World Series. Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is slated for demolition, and next year’s tournament will move to Wichita State.
TIGER PLUGGER: The dog days could not have been more brutal for the Detroit Tigers than last Wednesday afternoon, when they finished a winless road trip with a 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
Amtrak took me to Anaheim for the game. As I walked from the train station across the Angel Stadium parking lot, smoke was billowing to the east from the Holy Fire. It would be diffused into a dirty brown haze during the game.
Mike Trout was sidelined by his wrist injury and Shohei Ohtani took the day off, but still the Angels had enough firepower to tame the Tigers. They got a leadoff home run from Kole Calhoun and in the fifth inning, back-to-back homers by Justin Upton and Albert Pujols.
James McCann saw those balls leave the park from his catcher’s mask behind home plate. In his fifth year as a backstop for the Tigers, the Goleta native knows the ups and downs of the game. McCann was an outstanding catcher at Dos Pueblos High and Arkansas. He was a second-round pick in the 2011 Major League draft by Detroit, and he made his debut with the Tigers in September 2014.
“His work ethic in high school was all the time,” said Chris Joyce, a Dos Pueblos teammate of McCann’s and the pitching coach of the Foresters. “He always carried himself like a Major Leaguer.”
It’s been a difficult season for McCann and the Tigers. They were just 3½ games out of first place in the American League Central division on May 28 when McCann hit a grand slam off Angels ace Tyler Skaggs in a 9-3 win at Detroit. Then things started going south, and this week the Tigers were 17 games behind and playing out the season.
Despite an offensive slump (his .222 batting average was 20 points off his career numbers), McCann was playing hard last week. On Tuesday night, he chugged from first to home — at 6′2″ and 225 pounds, he is no sprinter — to score a run on a hit down the left-field line by JaCoby Jones, earning “attaboys” in the dugout. Later in the game, McCann hit a sinking liner into the center-right field gap, only to see the Angels’ Eric Young Jr. make a diving catch and double the runner off first. “I thought for sure a base hit, possibly an RBI,” McCann said. “He came out of nowhere to make that play. At this level, you’re facing good pitchers and defensive players who can run down the ball.”
In the sixth inning, McCann showed why he is considered one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. José Briceño of the Angels tried to steal second base on a strike-three pitch to Young Jr., and McCann gunned him down at the bag. It was his 84th caught-stealing throw, the third most in the majors since 2015. “I take a lot of pride in that,” McCann said.
At 28, McCann is entering the prime of his career with plenty to play for, not the least being twin sons, Christian and Kane, who were born last December. He and his wife, Jessica, make their off-season home in Nashville, Tennessee.
What keeps him going in the heat of the summer? “The love, the passion for the game,” McCann said. “You hear about the dog days of August. It’s a grind, no doubt about it, playing every day. This juncture of the season, nobody feels 100 percent; you’re battling aches and pains, but that passion and love is greater than everything else.”