Return of the Champs
Steve Schuck admits he’s a bit spoiled, having witnessed three National Baseball Congress world championships in six seasons on the Santa Barbara Foresters bench.
“But I want a fourth. I’m greedy,” Schuck said on the eve of the Foresters season opener, set for 6 p.m. today at Pershing Park, as the team raises the 2018 championship banner prior to its game against the San Diego Waves.
It has become commonplace to watch the Foresters raise championship banners, winning seven of the past 13 NBC titles.
“I just shake my head when they say we are going to win it again, everything has to align so perfectly,” Foresters manager Bill Pintard said. “The city of Santa Barbara has expectations. The NBC has expectations. The players that come here have expectations. We don’t want to get beat, we want to keep our standard of excellence.
“We are like a student that gets straight A’s – we never want to get a B.”
And the roster that Pintard has put together should see plenty of success, particularly on offense, where big bats are arriving on the South Coast from Fresno State, Stanford, Wichita State and Cal State Fullerton.
The Forester pitching staff will eventually be packed with arms from schools such as Rice, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and Oregon.
Meanwhile, their lineup will feature players from Cal State Fullerton, Wichita State, Stanford, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
“We are still getting calls, with schools wanting to place guys with us,” Schuck said. “We just don’t have enough beds for them. Who wouldn’t want to play summer baseball in Santa Barbara. Just look at this place.”
The appeal of Santa Barbara also has a handful of players returning, including Ryan Cash, who played in 40 games last summer with a .347 batting average. The returners help maintain the expectation of success, despite the allure of the beach and other local distractions.
“We give these guys a lot of space, but our returners make sure they know that we have high expectations,” Schuck said.
Pintard says returning players help with game management.
“Guys like Ryan Cash know the drill, he knows we don’t panic when we are down three in the sixth (inning),” Pintard said. “It’s not pressure, it’s just getting it done.”
There are also a number of local products that will at least start the summer with the Foresters, including recent Bishop Diego High grad and soon-to-be Westmont hurler Gabe Arteaga, as well as SBCC’s Dylan Kelley and Tommy Holguin.
“These guys grew up in the Junior Foresters,” Pintard said. “Now they get to take the field with us. That’s incredible.”
It doesn’t hurt that the Foresters are coming of a record-breaking MLB Draft, with 18 former players being taken, including the eighth overall pick, Josh Jung.
“I’ve stayed in contact with some of our guys, and maybe not so much with others, but it’s incredible to see how a summer here has helped these guys find a spot at the next level,” Schuck said.
The season debut will be the first in more than nearly three decades without longtime supporter and team board member, Mike Pearl, who passed away in January.
Pearl had been by Pintard’s side since the day he took over the Foresters.
“I’ll always remember how excited he was during our first game,” Pintard said. “He said, ‘Hey, Pinner, we have $125 in the kitty!’ I looked at him and said, ‘That’s good Mikey, now get me $75, I have to pay the umpires.’
“Mike was a great guy, we’ll be thinking about him.”