Fred Warrecker looked down on Eddie Mathews Field from the sidewalk on Canon Perdido Street. The baseball diamond, bathed in soft winter sunlight, was a beautiful and welcome sight.
“I had a stroke right there behind the backstop,” Warrecker said. He had been watching a practice session last October when he collapsed. Immediate medical attention saved him, but he is still recovering.
“This is my first day out since then,” he said. “It’s the first day of spring for me.”
He showed up last Friday afternoon to watch the Santa Barbara Dons take on the Dos Pueblos Chargers in their Channel League baseball opener.
Warrecker, 80, has been devoted to the Dons most of his life. He was their head coach for 43 years, retiring after the 2015 season. His son Donny Warrecker took over the next three years. Now there is a new head coach, Steve Schuck, but Fred’s grandson, junior pitcher/first baseman Bryce Warrecker, keeps the family name in the program.
The field was in good shape for the early-season game, a point of pride for the elder Warrecker. He pointed to the tile-roofed dugouts, built during his tenure. The home dugout has ivy-covered walls. “No graffiti,” he said.
More often than not, Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos have battled for the league title. The Chargers have had the upper hand lately, winning six championships in the last seven years, but often by just a game or two over the Dons.
Dos Pueblos stuck the first blow of the 2019 season, winning Friday’s game, 4-3. Senior right-hander Nico Martinez shut out the Dons for six innings — including the second when he struck out the side after loading the bases — and reliever Mason Boelter survived a Santa Barbara rally in the seventh.
Santa Barbara starter Derek True, who’s signed with Cal Poly, sailed through the first three innings, but DP scored three runs in the fourth, capped by Conner Gleissner’s two-run single.
“In my four years playing Santa Barbara, there’s always close games,” Martinez said. “It’s a dogfight, a battle to the end.”
Both teams felt they have some kinks to work out. Cold, wet weather has limited their practices. Bryce Warrecker was still playing basketball for the Dons — they went into the Division 3 state regionals this week after a heartbreaking 57-55 defeat to Palm Springs in the Southern Section semifinals — and he went 0-for-3 as a designated hitter in the baseball game.
“I’m not worried,” said Schuck, a former prep coach in Arizona who’s spent the last five summers helping coach the Santa Barbara Foresters. “Dos Pueblos is a good ball club. They got key hits, and we didn’t. We’ll play again.”
The Dons and Chargers will meet at DP’s Scott O’Leary Field on March 12 and will return to Santa Barbara on March 15.
GAUCHO REVIVAL: UCSB, coming off two disappointing baseball seasons after its appearance in the 2016 College World Series, had a blast in its first home series last weekend, sweeping Hartford by scores of 10-5, 6-4, and 14-0. “I’ve been looking forward to this season,” junior outfielder Armani Smith said. “It’s a totally different vibe. I’m speaking for everyone on the team. We have the confidence to put it together and be dangerous this season.” Smith had seven hits against Hartford, including a home run to dead center in his first at-bat of the series.
SPIKE’S DREAM: January 31 was the 100th birthday of Jackie Robinson and also the day Spike Lee was honored at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. During his interview at the Arlington Theatre, Lee brought up the possibility that he could mirror Robinson’s breakthrough in major league baseball by becoming the first black filmmaker to win the Oscar for best director. It did not happen, but Lee did share the trophy for his work on the screenplay of BlacKkKlansman.
CATCHING UP: Santa Barbara trail runner Dani Moreno (featured in the Dec. 20, 2018, Independent) knocked off her first ultra-distance race, winning the Fourmidable 50k, so named because of four daunting climbs on the course in Auburn, Calif. Moreno was clocked in a near-record 4:12 despite wet, muddy conditions. She earned a ticket to the 2019 Trail World Championship on June 8 in Portugal. Sam Alen and Sage Kerst (featured Jan. 10), who made history for Goleta’s Ice in Paradise by qualifying for the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Detroit, finished 10th out of 12 couples in the intermediate pairs division.
FEELS LIKE SPRING: Fred Warrecker (directional), recovering from a stroke, watched the league baseball opener at Santa Barbara High last Friday. Dos Pueblos pitcher Nico Martinez (directional) had a strong outing in the Chargers’ 4-3 victory.