In the void between spring and fall NCAA sports, summer at UCSB is a flurry of activity for a local semi-professional baseball team.
Since June 3, the Santa Barbara Foresters (16-5 overall, 12-5 in the California Collegiate League) have been playing on campus at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, recruiting college players from various teams across the nation.
This year junior pitchers Justin Aspegren and Jeff Braun and junior outfielder Mario Lewis joined the Foresters at the conclusion of UCSB’s season.
“The guys [from UCSB] are usually good solid players, solid in their fundamentals,” Foresters Head Coach Bill Pintard said. “And the pitchers over the years have been really outstanding. Tom Myers at UCSB works really well with pitchers, so the player’s polished when we get a Gaucho. … They’re always very coachable and never have a problem getting along with everyone. Gauchos are always good guys. We’re close to the [UCSB] coaching staff, so we know a lot about them coming into the season.”
For the Foresters, Lewis is batting .158 with only 19 at-bats under his belt. Aspegren is the Gaucho hurler with the most appearances during the Foresters’ young season, posting a spectacular 0.00 ERA and a 1-0 decision in 10 innings as both a starter and a reliever. Like his counterpart, Braun has also posted a 0.00 ERA and a 1-0 decision in one appearance as a starter, pitching seven shutout innings.
To put things into perspective, the Foresters have only played 23 games. Gauchos were not officially allowed to play until UCSB’s academic year ended on June 16, making them eligible to play in only seven games so far. Of the players who have been playing since June 3, the most innings pitched by a Forester is 24 in eight appearances.
In addition to the three Gauchos, many high school players from surrounding areas step in and play for the Foresters while the staff is waiting for the academic year to end and for players who come from teams as they’re eliminated from the College World Series.
“Pintard always talks about ‘Ster Ball,” Aspegren said. “It’s really a philosophy for how we play, the group, in the dugout, our work ethic,” Aspegren said. “It’s just a kind of huge philosophy and it’s really cool because everyone buys into it. Guys are coming from all over the country and in a matter of days, they take 31 guys and make up a roster and we make it happen.”
Last year the Foresters finished second in the nation thanks to help from players who are familiar with post-season play from Division I championship teams such as Texas and Fresno.
This year, the Foresters are on an six-game winning streak, having won 10 of their last 12 games. Last weekend, they completed a six-game sweep of the Maxim Best of the West Tournament, in which they won $10,000 for the victory.
“I like [playing for the Foresters], it’s a little more lax like a summer program should be,” Lewis said. “It’s a totally different game, plus we’re not seeing the same competition. It’s fun to do, to get to know a lot of the guys and to see what kind of talent there is around the nation. I like that fact that you can come together for a summer and play with guys that you wouldn’t normally see.”
Other than the familiar Gaucho faces, pitchers Dylan Axelrod, Tyler Davis and Aspegren are all graduates of Santa Barbara City College’s baseball program. They played together two years ago under the direction of Matt Hobbes, who is now the pitching coach for the Foresters.
But the Foresters are also important in Major League Baseball, as 17 Forester alumni currently play in the big leagues, including Morgan Ensberg of the Houston Astros and UCSB alum Ryan Spillborghs of the Colorado Rockies.
“College is definitely different than summer ball and pro baseball,” Spillborghs said. “At times a loss is heart-breaking, but in the pros if you lose a game you have another one the next day. You don’t have to live and die with every game. In college a loss to Cal Poly seems like the end of the world, but in summer ball you’re just trying to get better and have some fun. When you’re playing summer ball you’re just having fun and meeting new people, trying to figure stuff out so you can get drafted or at least help your college team out.”
The Foresters will continue to play CCL games all summer long, in addition to hosting a tournament this weekend to qualify for the National Baseball Congress playoffs next month in Wichita, Kans. At 5 p.m. today, the Foresters take on the California Oaks at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
“We’re one of best teams nationally and it’s a big deal,” Aspegren said. “We’re playing every day and work so much harder than anyone else in the country: running, doing drills and lifting. It’s laid back and fun to come to the park, but we still put in tremendous amounts of work.”