The Arteaga family shares a special bond with the semipro baseball club, on and off the field
The pitch Miguel Garcia threw nine years ago made an impression as deep in Bill Pintard’s memory as the ones Clayton Kershaw’s fastball leaves in a catcher’s mitt.
“He had to have bandages on his hands, so he cradled the ball in those bandages,” recalled Pintard, long-time manager of the Santa Barbara Foresters summer collegiate baseball club. “He came up with it, and then down … with that downward tilt … and he threw it, and he didn’t bounce it …
“And it was straight.”
The flashback of that gutty pitch hit Pintard on Friday as he watched Gabe Arteaga — Miguel’s youngest brother — throw his own first pitch.
The recent Bishop Diego High graduate, a four-year varsity star for the Cardinals, pitched two hitless innings of relief for the Foresters in their 1-0, Opening Day victory over the San Diego Waves.
“I was really small when my brother did Hugs for Cubs … Really young,” said Arteaga, who is filling in until the rest of the Foresters’ team arrives. “He has a rare skin disorder and he has kidney problems.
“He loved his experience with the Foresters. Me and my brothers (Tony and Jesus) would come out here with him when we were young, so I’ve been around this for a while. This is all very special for me.”
Miguel, who was born with a blister-causing disease called epidermolysis bullosa, is one of countless children who’ve benefitted from the team’s Hugs for Cubs program the last two decades.
He became one of the Foresters’ biggest fans when they took him with several other Cottage Hospital patients to a Dodger game in 2003. They met Shawn Green during batting practice and begged him to hit a home run just for them. The star slugger obliged with a blast over the right-field fence in the fourth inning.
“Those kids are the true fans,” Green would tell a News-Press reporter.
“Shawn really took a liking to Miguel,” Pintard recalled. “The next year we went down there and I remember Shawn going, ‘Hey Buddy! I remember you! How ya’ doing?'”
Miguel did well enough to become the Hugs Kid of 2010, which gave him the honor of throwing out that season’s ceremonial first pitch.
Arteaga, a 6-foot-2 righthander, has a long history with the club, as well. He even served as its bat boy, sitting in the dugout with the team every game his mother Becky could bring him.
“There was always a smile on his face,” Pintard said. “He was always quiet. He did what you asked. He was a great kid. The whole family is wonderful.
“The mom is so dedicated to that family. I don’t know how many jobs she works, but she’s always been at their games. She’s always looked out for them.”
Staying close to family was one of the reasons Arteaga recently committed to pitch for Westmont College next season.
“My mom loves to watch me play and she’s always been there for me,” he said. “I really loved Westmont’s campus, too, and their whole education system.”
Arteaga said he will treasure these next few weeks with the Foresters, as well.
“They brought us in all those years, treated us like family, and were always there for us,” he said. “It feels good to be playing for the Foresters now and being able to give back.”
He wasn’t the only local star to excel on Opening Day. Dylan Kelley, a former Dos Pueblos High star who’s now at Hancock, pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning. Santa Barbara High graduate Tommy Holguin, who played for SBCC last season, got two of the Foresters’ four hits and scored the winning run in the eighth.
“Tommy’s uncle Joe is married to my sister,” Arteaga said, “and so my whole family is here.”
Brother Miguel’s initials were stitched on the back of the Foresters’ caps in 2010. It’s a tradition the team started in 1994 to support Pintard’s son Eric, a pitcher on the team who would battle cancer until his death in 2004.
“When I took the team over the next year, in 1995, I told Eric, ‘They want to put your initials on the hats again … What do you think?'” Pintard recalled. “He told me, ‘The heck with that, Pops — I’m kicking ass. We need to do something for other kids.
“‘We ought to have them come to our camps’ — we so we started providing scholarships for them — ‘and we ought to put someone else’s initials on the hats.'”
Chris Messier’s initials were the first. This year, they are JM for leukemia patient Jill Mott, the daughter of Aime and Blair Mott.
Three years ago, after winning the 2016 NBC World Series, Pintard followed the lead of 18 of his players and had the Hugs for Cubs logo tattooed onto his chest.
“They showed their tattoos to me and said, ‘Coach … C’mon,’ so I went down and did it the next day,” he said. “I had the logo put right over my heart. My son drew it.”
The Foresters, meanwhile, remain dear to the heart of Becky Arteaga’s entire family.
“Miguel is 28 now, and he’s doing good,” Gabe said before Friday’s game. “He’s on dialysis three times a week, but he’s getting better.
“He still lives with us. He should be here today with my brothers. We’re always watching Dodger games together at home.”
They’ll spend the time talking about that Shawn Green home run and other Dodger exploits, but now they can chat about other baseball lore.
Like the days they both pitched for the Santa Barbara Foresters.