Coming off a basketball season in which he received first team All-State recognition, Santa Barbara High’s Bryce Warrecker seemed destined to wrap up his senior year with further glory on the baseball diamond. The 6′8″ pitcher and first baseman won his first two starts on the mound and was banging out line drives at the plate.
The season abruptly ended in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the aspirations of millions of high school and college athletes slid into desolation. There were no spring championships to celebrate, no records to be set. Warrecker was left hoping he would pitch again in 2021 at Cal Poly, which had proffered him a baseball scholarship.
But then, against all odds, along came the Santa Barbara Foresters, as proud a baseball organization as could be found anywhere. They had been playing every year since 1991, and even though the California Collegiate League had suspended operations, Foresters manager Bill Pintard and team president Christina Songer were determined to play ball this summer. They pieced together a month-long schedule against visiting independent teams from around the state — including a dozen contests with a club representing Pea Soup Andersen’s — and made an agreement with the city to use Pershing Park under strict conditions. No fans were allowed inside the gates, and players and staff wore masks off the field.
With a rampaging lineup of top-notch collegians eager to swing wooden bats — along with Warrecker and Dons teammate Nick Oakley, fresh out of high school — the Foresters had a phenomenal month, winning 25 of 28 home games.
Then they took another bold step, mustering the support to send the team to the 86th National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series in Wichita, Kansas. The NBC had the same mindset as the Foresters — not wanting a tradition to elapse. The World Series had taken place every year since 1934, when Satchel Paige pitched his team to the first title. Santa Barbara had made 27 consecutive appearances and became the winningest team in the history of the tournament when it claimed its seventh championship in 2018.
Make it eight. On August 10, the Foresters resoundingly capped the 2020 World Series with a 12-3 victory over the Cheney (Kansas) Diamond Dogs. They swept four games in the tournament, outscoring the opposition 33-4. In winning 17 of their last 18 games, they finished with a 30-4 record.
Warrecker was able to enjoy a rare experience in this arid sports season: “The biggest dogpile I’ve ever been on.” Throwing caution to the wind, the Foresters players flung themselves into a human mound after the final out of the championship game.
Otherwise, the discipline that the team had shown throughout July prevailed in Wichita. “We all wore masks if we were within six feet of other people,” Warrecker said. “We couldn’t sign autographs or take pictures with kids.”
But they played in an expanded bubble. Unlike the professional leagues, the NBC allowed fans into Wichita State University’s Eck Stadium, with limitations. Every other row was blocked off, masks were required, and groups were separated from each other.
“Nick Oakley and I were talking about it: This might be the biggest crowd for any sporting event in the nation,” Warrecker marveled.
The big kid was the third generation of his family to play for the Foresters. His grandfather Fred Warrecker was on the original team sponsored by the erstwhile Order of Foresters in the 1950s. His father, Wes Warrecker, pitched for the renewed Foresters in the 1990s.
The 2020 team was loaded with arms. “We brought 19 pitchers to Wichita,” Warrecker said. In an 8-0 win over the Liberal (Kansas) Bee-Jays, four Santa Barbara pitchers threw a combined no-hitter. Warrecker made the most of his only appearance in the title game. In the top of the sixth inning, he mowed down three Cheney batters on 12 pitches, striking out two of them.
Through the season, Warrecker compiled a 3-0 record and a 0.36 earned-run-average, the third lowest recorded in Forester annals. He fanned 39 batters and walked only two in 25 innings.
“It’s put me on a new level,” he said of his month with the Foresters. During his brief stint in Wichita, his fastball topped out at 92 mph.
“We saw Bryce grow up in front of us,” Pintard said. “His infielders loved playing behind him. He worked quickly and threw strikes.” Warrecker noted that the Foresters defense, which played errorless ball in Wichita, “made it easy for me. I could throw strikes and not worry.”
Oakley also had a grandfather who played for the old Foresters. The Santa Barbara High infielder, who is bound for UCSB, played in 13 games this summer and had a highlight moment when he produced a walk-off 5-4 victory over Pea Soup with a push bunt in the bottom of the 10th inning.
It’s rare that a high schooler goes through a complete season with the Foresters, given their history with college players. Pintard pointed out that it bodes well for those who do make it. Two previous players out of S.B. High, Ryan Spilborghs and Virgil Vasquez, both went on to play in the major leagues.