Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Santa Barbara is No. 1 in the nation when it comes to weather, according to U.S. News & World Report, which researched the variations in temperature and counted the cloudy days. The media outlet could have surveyed the Santa Barbara Foresters and come up with the same ranking.
“The weather’s so nice,” said Logan Allen, one of 26 college baseball players who have come from out of state to play for the Foresters this summer. Their hometowns are in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia, Colorado, Arizona, and Hawai‘i. There also are nine California players on the roster.
Besides the temperate climate, the players are lured by the opportunity to swing wooden bats — such a glorious “crack” at solid contact compared to the “ping” of the metal models — and the club’s winning tradition.
Since their founding in 1991, the Foresters have never had a losing season. Under Bill Pintard, their manager for the past 24 years, they have won 957 games while losing 291 — a winning percentage of .767 that surpasses any single season in the history of the major leagues (the 1906 Cubs reached the .763 mark).
The 2018 ’Sters are winning at a ridiculous .909 pace (30-3). They have qualified for their 26th consecutive appearance at the National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series, the longest streak for any team since Wichita, Kansas, hosted the first NBC tournament in 1935. Santa Barbara has brought home six national championship trophies, tied for the most with the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks.
Collegiate Summer Baseball, which covers more than 250 teams across the nation, has ranked the Foresters No. 3 this week behind a pair of teams in the prestigious Cape Cod League.
“I can’t explain it,” outfielder Luke Ritter said of the Foresters’ success. “I’ve never been on a team like this. We find ways to win.”
On paper, their players do not have extraordinary college résumés. Ritter arrived in Santa Barbara last summer after hitting .223 as a Wichita State sophomore. His average blossomed to .353 with the Foresters, and that carried over to his junior year with the Shockers, as he hit .341.
Ritter returned for a second summer in Santa Barbara — “The weather’s so good” — and has been on a tear that earned him the sobriquet “Ritter the Hitter” the past two weeks. In Santa Barbara’s 18-7 road victory over the Orange County Riptide, he went walk-homer-double-single-single-triple, becoming the only Forester in recent memory to hit for the cycle.
The Foresters experience goes beyond baseball. Ever since his son Eric’s life was cut short by cancer, Pintard has made his ball club a source of comfort and encouragement for kids with cancer. He calls the program Hugs for Cubs (the grown-up Foresters are modeled after Smokey the Bear). Their players are making two visits to Cottage Hospital this season, and during the NBC World Series, they annually deliver cheer to young patients at Wichita’s Via Christi Hospital.
Pintard makes sure that the players he recruits to the Foresters will not flake out of such commitments. He told the story of a surefire hitting prospect whose coach let on that “he’s an a--hole.”
“I said, ‘Good, I don’t want him,’” Pintard recalled. “‘But he can really hit.’ ‘I don’t care. I don’t want him.’” [The coach said,] “Pinner, I love you. Now I can tell him at practice, ‘You smell so bad, they can smell you in California.’”
So Pintard picked up Logan Allen, a pleasant Division 2 outfielder from the University of Arkansas–Fort Smith. “I was a late bloomer,” said Allen, who did not play baseball until his senior year in high school at Bryant, Arkansas. Evan Lee, one of last year’s top Foresters who played for the Arkansas Razorbacks, hailed from the same town, and he recommended Allen to the Foresters.
Allen is hitting .348 as Santa Barbara’s leadoff hitter. He has made some spectacular running catches in the outfield, and last Sunday, when an Orange County Surf baserunner tried to score from second on a single to right field, Allen gunned him down with a strong throw to catcher Turner Gauntt.
The Foresters, who won their first 15 games of the summer, brought their latest winning streak to seven with their 7-2 victory over the Surf at Pershing Park. The previous night, they shellacked the Valley Bears from Fresno, 17-0. That could have been expected; the Bears agreed to play Santa Barbara as a late replacement after they had played a double-header in Los Angeles earlier Saturday.
The Bears were obviously short on pitching, and besides not delivering the ball with much velocity, they had control problems, issuing 13 walks. The Foresters remained patient, refusing to chase bad pitches. “Coach told us, ‘You’ve got to stay focused. Keep your approach,’” Allen said. Pintard explained, “I don’t want them to develop bad habits.”
John Jensen, the Foresters’ lone hometown player, was their first baserunner after singling with one out in the second inning. He proceeded to steal second base. Then he stole third. He came home on an error, the first blow of a five-run inning.
Allen, who leads the club with 25 stolen bases, likes Pintard’s aggressive approach to the game. “He’s a go-getter,” Allen said. “He likes to put pressure on the other team. We force a lot of errors.”
The Foresters also put an emphasis on fresh arms. “This is the deepest pitching staff we’ve ever had,” Pintard said. Seventeen different Foresters pitchers have wins on their records. Caleb Sloan (TCU), Jackson Wolf (West Virginia), and Michael Hobbs (St. Mary’s) are the top three hurlers in the California Collegiate League, as rated by coaches and scouts.
The freewheeling Foresters will play five more games at Pershing Park this summer, beginning Friday evening, July 20, when the Surf makes a return visit. They’ll take on the Valley Bears in their home finale on July 27, and after the league playoffs, they’ll board the bus for the 84th NBC World Series.
The Foresters have established the Wichita Fund (details on their website, sbforesters.org) to help support their bid for a seventh national title.