Bob Townsend is rightfully proud of the baseball team he got started 28 years ago: the second coming of the Santa Barbara Foresters. Out of his love of baseball and his community spirit, it has grown into an extraordinary summer pastime.
Appropriately nicknamed “Towny,” during the 1970s, he played for legendary baseball coaches Fred Warrecker (Santa Barbara High), Rusty Fairly (SBCC), and Dave Gorrie (UCSB). He was the type of player that Fairly deemed to call Santa Barbara’s “Charlie Hustle.” Townsend went to work as a building contractor, and he got into coaching after hours, learning the ropes from Scott O’Leary at Dos Pueblos High.
Townsend was coaching with Al Ferrer and Bob Brontsema at UCSB in 1991 when Gaucho outfielder Nick Satriano asked him if he knew of a program where he could sharpen his skills during the summer.
“There was not a big presence of summer baseball in California,” Townsend said. “We kind of jokingly said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to play here?’ The conversation started my wheels turning. Who wouldn’t want to play ball here?”
Townsend heard that amateur baseball was booming in Santa Barbara during the 1950s. He went to the library archives and read about the teams: the Missions, the Merchants, the Foresters. He sat down with Tim Badillo, the impresario of community baseball in that era, and became convinced that it could happen again.
“We were going to be called the Rangers, just a name I came up with,” Townsend said. He changed his mind after researching the team that had been sponsored by the erstwhile Order of Foresters lodge. “They caught my eye because of the people that played on the team: [Fred] Warrecker, the Schmandt brothers, Vaughn Wipf, Bill Oakley, Roy Askins. All the players were still in the community and proponents of sports here. Also, the name was unique.”
With players drawn from area colleges and a smattering of ex-minor leaguers, the Foresters went 21-7 in 1991, the first of 29 straight winning seasons. Their home diamond was at Santa Barbara High. (Later homes were Westmont College, UCSB, and, currently, Pershing Park.)
Townsend enrolled the Foresters in the National Baseball Congress. When they won their league in 1992, they could not afford a trip to Wichita for the NBC World Series. They did make it in 1993, beginning a streak of 27 consecutive appearances.
“Before our trip, I had the team sign three dozen baseballs,” Townsend recalled. “We played the Beatrice Bruins from Missouri in our first game. After warm-ups, we gave kids the baseballs. It was amazing, watching them come down to our dugout. The stands were packed. The balls were getting tossed around like flies. I put one in my pocket, and a lady came down with her grandson. She asked if we had any more balls. ‘It just so happens I have one.’ It was such a moment to see this young boy get this ball, holding it like a treasure. I get goosebumps remembering it.
“Most teams won’t interact much with fans,” Townsend said. “I figured if we interacted, got them going, every year we’d be welcome. We’ve become a fan favorite there.”
The Foresters also nurtured goodwill at home, even the out-of-town players. When a donor backed out shortly before they were to leave for Wichita in 1994, Townsend had them wear their caps and uniform tops and hold signs at freeway off-ramps. “I went on the radio and got the word out in the papers,” he said. “People started driving to the off-ramps and donating money. We fell short, but I was able to foot the rest of the bill.”
SBCC’s Eric Pintard was a pitcher for the Foresters in 1993. A year later, he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Bill “Pinner” Pintard, his father, replaced Townsend’s pitching coach, who also had cancer. Unbeknownst to the team, Bill flew Eric to Wichita for the 1994 NBC series.
“Eric was undergoing chemo,” Townsend said. “We had EP 19 [his number] on our hats. We’re warming up for the game, the gate opens, and Bill is rolling Eric out in a wheelchair. He’s bald, and the whole team put their hands on his head. We called it the rally dome.”
Bill Pintard said, “The NBC gave [Eric] the most inspirational player award even though he hadn’t set foot in a game. Now it’s called the Eric Pintard Most Inspirational Player Award.”
Townsend decided to step down for personal reasons after the 1994 season. He turned the Foresters over to Bill Pintard, whose love for baseball and the community matched his own. The boys from Santa Barbara made it to the NBC championship game in 2003 (when Townsend was one of Pintard’s assistant coaches), losing to the Chinese Taipei team. They finally broke through in 2006 against the Derby (Kansas) Twins. Championships followed in 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018.
The Foresters are trying to add an eighth trophy to their unrivalled collection. When they opened the 2019 NBC World Series last Friday with a 1-0 win over the Haysville (Kansas) Aviators, it was the 1,000th win in Pintard’s 25 years as skipper.
“I laid the foundation; Bill built the house,” Townsend said. “He’s taken them places I never could have taken them. He’s so engrossed, has done such a great job for the team, for the community, for all the cancer kids. I realized from growing up here, it couldn’t be just a baseball team; it had to be a community team. We want to give back to the community with athletes kids could look up to.”
In Santa Barbara, and in Wichita.
FLYING SQUIRREL: As if his major league–leading batting average was not amazing enough, Jeff McNeil of the New York Mets made a highlight-reel catch last week in Chicago, leaping toward the seats along the right-field line to snag a foul fly hit by Eloy Jiménez of the White Sox. McNeil, nicknamed “Squirrel” by the Mets, landed in the extended netting that had just been installed to protect the fans from hard-driven balls. In this case, it saved them from being slammed by McNeil’s all-out effort.
The Foresters benefitted from such plays by the hustling Santa Barbara native when he played a key role on their 2011 NBC championship team. Even though his major-league career was just getting started, McNeil was inducted into the Foresters Hall of Fame at their annual banquet last February.