Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Foresters to end regular season today


In a game laden with statistics, the Santa Barbara Foresters semi-pro baseball team has continually churned out solid results. And when a sunny day at the ballpark, hotdogs, soda and a gritty head coach isn’t enough to win one over, there’s always the numbers.
The Foresters have a 20-4 record so far in the month of July. A 4-2 win on Sunday over the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy secured the Foresters’ 14th California Collegiate League title in 15 years. For the 15th consecutive year, the Foresters will travel 30 hours by bus to the National Baseball Congress World Series, which they won in 2006 and have been runners up twice in the past five years. And according to Head Coach Bill Pintard, the Foresters have one of the highest winning percentages in the NBC’s 75-year history.

If that’s not enough to spark interest, consider 43 former Foresters are currently playing at some level of professional baseball.
While the numbers are telling, statisticians can’t quantify the fuel pushing the positive results.
Anyone who’s sat through a Foresters game at UC Santa Barbara’s Ceasar Uyesaka Stadium knows there’s an attitude and determination the hometown player’s show that stretches beyond what one might expect from a lazy afternoon at the ballpark.
It is summed up when a fan, cheering wildly after witnessing a Forester player steal a base, digs his elbow into his seat mate and says, “That’s Forester baseball.”
Pintard acknowledges the concept, and said it’s a style of play he and the coaching staff work to instill in their players. And it works.
“[It] means very aggressive baseball,” he said. “Stealing bases, hitting-and-running, taking the extra base. Making the commitment. Playing tough, just playing the game with intensity.”
When this year got off to a slow start (the Foresters finished June with an 11-12 record), Pintard said his team simply wasn’t playing up to its potential. Contributing to the lag in victories was a debilitating stomach flu several players contracted during a three-game series in Cuba.
Despite losing more games in June than the Foresters lost during the entire 2007 season, Pintard said he wasn’t worried about maintaining his streak of NBC World Series appearances, only that his team play as good as he knew they could.
“I just wanted our team to play to their capabilities,” he said. “I think we just got healthy and [we did] some hard work and embraced the belief that we had to get better.”
With a 32-16 record going into today’s final regular season game against the San Luis Obispo Rattlers, Pintard likened this year’s squad to the 2006 national championship team, which he said also got off to a slow start.
When the Foresters board their 1979 team bus on Aug. 3 for the long journey to Wichita, Kan., they’ll do it with a stocked pitching staff that Pintard believes is one of the best in the nation.
It consists of Ian Berger, who is 4-1 with a 3.39 ERA and Carson Andrew, who has maintained a zero in the loss column with a 4-0 record. Another strong starter for the Foresters that Pintard believes will shine in Wichita is Mike Ojala. One player who won’t be joining the Foresters is pitcher Ryan Cook, who signed yesterday with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Berger, who also played with the Foresters last year, said the recipe for turning this season into a success was improving defense and clutch hitting. If the defense is behind him and the other hurlers in Wichita, and timely hitting is a staple on offense, Berger said the Foresters will be tough to beat.
“If you get that it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.
Berger also commented on the Foresters’ style of play, which he said is defined by playing hard and competing.
“That’s kind of the base for the Foresters,” he said. “In the past and every year Coach Pintard makes sure that we hustle out and get ground balls and play the right way.
“You know if Coach Pintard is going to be your coach it’s going to be like that every year.”
Another player who joined the Foresters this year is Andre Miller, also known as DeAndre Miller, whose name is near the top of every all-time offensive statistic list compiled by the Foresters. Miller has the second and third most hits in a single season with 71 and 67, and has the second highest number of stolen bases with 34.
Miller returned to the Foresters this year after being released from the Anaheim Angels system, and though he admitted the club struggled more this year than he’s used to, he believes the right things have happened to ensure a quality run in the post season.
“We just started putting together a whole game with both offense and defense,” he said. “Pitching had been keeping us in games the entire year.”
While the Foresters may not always play to the caliber of a Major League team, the field at Ceasar Uyesaka Stadium has become a summer-time breeding ground for major leaguers. And in a sport and a city where semi-pro and professional teams come and go, the Foresters have remained a staple on the summer sports scene since the early 1990s.
Pintard, who wears the number 19 in honor of his late son Eric Pintard, a former Foresters player and coach who died of cancer, said it’s not so much his team, as it is the communities.
He said attendance continues to climb each year and maintaining this success requires the same tools that are needed to build a good team.
“You build a solid foundation, you stay after it and work hard and you don’t forget people who help you along the way,” he said. “We are so grateful to the community.”
Whether Pintard is arguing with an umpire, hassling the interns at the concession stand or flashing a smile after a not-so-rare victory, it’s clear he and the Foresters are here to stay for all the right reasons.
“I just love the game,” Pintard said. “It’s a very rewarding thing. It’s a passion and it’s a great passion. I just love to live my life in color instead of black-and-white.”
More information about the Foresters is available at www.sbforesters.org.

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