The last game of the baseball season was no time for Bill Pintard to finish last.
The 73-year-old manager of the Santa Barbara Foresters broke his pregame huddle in the outfield at Wichita’s Eck Stadium nine days ago and — as is his ritual — began sprinting toward the dugout.
“I try to beat everybody off the field,” Pintard explained. “I started breaking a little early this time, but they know I’m trying to win and so they’re all breaking, too.
“That’s when I popped my hammie.”
Pintard began grabbing his strained hamstring muscle with one hand and at some nearby players with the other. He shoved and grabbed and limped toward the dugout — and he didn’t finish last.
“I beat only one guy,” he said, “but I did beat him.”
A few hours later, the manager who refused to be last was first again. His Foresters routed Cheney, Kan., 12-3 in the championship game of the National Baseball Congress World Series to increase their record number of tournament titles to eight.
“It was a remarkable finish to a remarkable year,” Pintard said after they outscored their four World Series opponents 33-4 to finish the summer with a win-loss record of 30-4.
A season hamstrung by the COVID-19 pandemic wound up being one of his most satisfying in 26 years as manager of the summer collegiate team.
“This year was crazy,” he said, “but we were able to find some kind of normalcy.”
His team succeeded despite the challenges of strict government regulations and health department protocol. They were allowed no fans at Pershing Park, although a handful did sneak some peaks. A few perched themselves on the walkway that leads up the hill to Santa Barbara City College. Others watched from the public sidewalk just beyond the right field’s chain-link fence along Castillo Street.
The Foresters did scatter them at times with the 42 home runs they hit in just 34 games. The first three batters in Santa Barbara’s lineup — Matt McLain, Jace Jung and Christian Encarnacion — had 27 homers between them.
It was, as Pintard called it, a “five-tool” team that could also hit for average (.317), run (135 stolen bases in 154 attempts), field (no errors during the four World Series games), and pitch (2.54 earned run average with 410 strikeouts in 301 1/3 innings).
“It was definitely the most talented team I’ve ever had,” Pintard said. “We have several first-round draft picks on this team. We had assistant general managers and vice-presidents of Major League teams watching us in Wichita.”
But the hottest baseball team in America also had to keep its cool. The Foresters had their temperatures checked before every game and practice.
“They did a great job staying safe,” Pintard said. “They weren’t allowed to have anyone come over to their apartments, not even their parents, and they stuck to that.”
The players even had to keep their distance from each other in the dugout. Some had to sit in the grandstands. Each ball and bat was also constantly sprayed with sanitizer.
“We even separated the balls between teams,” Pintard pointed out. “When we’d take the field, we’d give the umpire our baseballs. When the other team would go out there, they’d do the same. We’d never touch the same ones.”
Masks, meanwhile, became more than just catchers’ equipment. Every coach and player was required to wear face coverings. It did provide Pintard with one unexpected benefit.
“I didn’t get thrown out of even one game this season,” he said with a laugh. “The umpires couldn’t understand a word I was saying.”
The season’s challenges began well before the first game. Most leagues and teams, including the Foresters’ California Collegiate League, shut down before the summer even started. It did help Pintard pick up a few stars when the elite Cape Cod League decided not to play.
“I probably had to revise my roster 30 times, and I had to come up with three different schedules,” Pintard pointed out. “But we had a lot of people on our side.”
They included Ed St. George, who housed 20 of the Foresters at his apartment complex. The club’s board of directors, led by Christina Songer, helped organize and finance the season. Funding the trip to Wichita was a comeback victory all its own.
“At first I told them there was only about a 10% chance that we could get there,” Pintard said. “Then people were stepping up and raising money, and I said it was 20%… And soon after that, I was telling the tournament people that it was 50-50.”
Rich Hanna, recreation manager for the city of Santa Barbara, helped the Foresters navigate the strict world of COVID-19. Not one team member came down with the coronavirus. The team’s one COVID victim was star pitcher Justin Campbell, who was prohibited from traveling to Wichita after attending a family wedding that had 80 guests.
“Rich helped us find a way and never wavered,” Pintard said. “He had confidence in us, that we were doing it the right way.”
The city, which has a joint-use agreement with both SBCC and Old Spanish Days for the use of Pershing Park, has long recognized the Foresters as a community resource.
Pintard’s son Eric, who both pitched and coached for the club, founded its Hugs for Cubs cancer-survivor support program in 1995. He passed away from cancer in 2004 at age 31.
Henry Miller, a 5-year-old battling leukemia, was the celebrated Hugs for Cubs Kid for the second-straight year.
“We brought him back because he was getting treatments last year and couldn’t go bowling or attend surf day with the guys,” Pintard said. “It was unfortunate that he didn’t get to do any of those things again this year because of COVID.
“We did have him come out to throw out the first pitch again on our Hugs for Cubs Day. He threw strikes both times.”
Pintard is often asked when he will step down as manager of the Foresters.
“I guess the answer is when I lose the passion,” he replied. “One thing I told my players is that time is the one thing that is gone forever after you spend it, so spend it wisely.
“This job is tiring and taxing. We haven’t had a family summer vacation in 25 years, but my family allows me to do this.”
His wife Kris is the daughter of Bill Bertka, who still works for the Los Angeles Lakers as a consultant and special assistant at age 93.
“I can’t quit until he does,” Pintard said. “He called me before the last game and went, ‘There’s still meat on the bone.’”
Pintard soon felt it as he made his last summer run to the dugout.