Defending champion Foresters look for new identity

Brett Vertigan will rejoin the Foresters this season after being named to the Big West Conference's First Team this spring with the UCSB Gauchos. But Vertigan may have to leave the team after the first-year-player MLB draft next week. (Presidio Sports Photo)

Even for the Forester fans that are accustomed to seeing their favorite team dominate the California Collegiate League every summer, last year was certainly a season to remember. The 2011 Foresters went 36-13 overall on their way to not only a share of the CCL title, but also the prized National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series Championship – their third national title in five years.

The “Evil Empire” remains alive and well.

But Head Coach Bill Pintard was quick to point out that prior records and accomplishments have no bearing or influence on upcoming seasons.

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“Every team stands on their own merits and we have quite a bit of turnover from year to year and so this is the 2012 edition of the Foresters.” Coach Pintard said. “They’re not the 2011 team.”

SEASON SCHEDULE

In other words, Jeff McVaney and his .412 batting average are gone, Jeff McNeil and his twenty stolen bases are gone, and long gone are the towering home runs from James Wharton.

However, the Foresters do welcome back eight returners – Albert Minnis, TJ McGreevy, Tom Lemke, Ian McCarthy, Kirby Bellow, Brett Vertigan, Riley Moore and Robert Vickers – from the national championship squad.

The strength of the team is once again shaping up to be the pitching staff as McCarthy went 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA and McGreevy went 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA during the 2011 season. Minnis was also a main contributor during the title run as the team leader with 41 innings pitched.

All the returners – five of whom are pitchers – will be asked to assume more of a leadership role while setting an example for the newcomers. A lack of returning position players remains a bit of a concern for the coaching staff.

“We do have some returners that know the way we do things, what we expect,” Pintard said. “We look for a lot of responsibility so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with them but most of our returners are coming back on the mound. We don’t have a lot of position players.”

Moreover, Coach Pintard and his staff have already had to deal with the loss of six pitchers in the last two weeks due to grades, injuries and one from pitching too many innings during the season.

“Five of those guys are going be top 3 round draft picks next year so we’ve already been decimated a little bit,” he said.

They may even also lose the likes of outfielder Brett Vertigan, outfielder Ryan Barnes, catcher Jacob Felts, and pitcher Tom Lemke to the upcoming MLB draft. The harsh pre-season reality is that more players might be on their way out and the squad hasn’t even played catch yet.

But despite the turnover and unexpected roster changes, there is still a Forester tradition to be upheld and a CCL championship to be won.

“One of our goals is definitely winning our league. Our league is going to be stronger this year. We expect a lot of competition from San Luis.” Pintard said, “They got to be the favorites to win this year but they’re probably saying the same thing about us.”

And what about the possibility of a repeat national championship?

“I’m not even going there,” he said.

But don’t let the cautious talk fool you. Coach Pintard and his staff have been through all this before – 18 times to be exact – and the standards haven’t changed; they know how to deal with the raised expectations. They know how to get the most out of their players and that won’t be stopping anytime soon.

When asked if he had any retirement plans, he simply replied, “I still got a fire burning in my belly…I’m just half-way done.”

Good news for Forester fans. Everybody else better hope he’s joking.