John Zant: Tracking baseball playoffs, sans Dodgers

Bill Pintard - 2015 Santa Barbara Foresters

Santa Barbara Foresters manager Bill Pintard talks MLB playoffs with John Zant. (John Dvorak/Presidio Sports Photos)

The baseball playoffs have proceeded with craziness, emotion, and passion — and without the L.A. Dodgers. They were all dressed up with the most expensive lineup in the game, but they have nowhere to go.

“The Dodgers are too pretty,” said Bill Pintard. “They’re the all-chrome team. My friend Mike Gillespie [a college coach] says, ‘I want a player with a pickup-truck mentality. I don’t want a fancy car with all that chrome.’” Pintard looks for the same type of player every summer when he puts college ballplayers on the roster of his Santa Barbara Foresters, one of the country’s most successful amateur teams.

John Zant's column appears each week in the Santa Barbara Independent.

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John Zant’s column appears
each week in the
Santa Barbara Independent

Santa-Barbara-Independent

The Dodgers have not won the World Series since Kirk Gibson — the hardnosed former Michigan State wide receiver they acquired from the Detroit Tigers — unleashed a lightning strike with the Dodgers down to their last out in the ninth inning of the 1988 opening game.

In last Thursday’s deciding game of the divisional playoff series against the Mets, the Dodgers still had nine outs to go after they fell behind 3-2, but they meekly went down without a spark.

Pintard was impressed by the way Mets manager Terry Collins handled his team. “He deflected all the praise to his players,” Pintard said. “He didn’t let the [crude slide by L.A.’s Chase Utley into shortstop Ruben Tejada] become a distraction. He defused the controversy.”

In the National League Championship Series, Pintard said, “I like the Cubs, but I find myself rooting for the Mets.” He has a soft spot in his heart for Collins, a fellow baseball lifer in his sixties, who weathered fierce criticism earlier in his managing career.

Pintard also has a soft spot for the Cubs and for the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, because of Gary Woods, the Foresters hitting coach who died last February. “Woody was my best friend,” Pintard said. “He was the opening-day center fielder in Toronto, and he spent most of his career with the Cubs. There’s a lot of Woody mojo in the play-offs.”

There was some wild mojo in Toronto last week in the seventh inning of the deciding game of the Blue Jays-Rangers playoff series: a catcher’s toss that caromed off a bat, allowing Texas to score a go-ahead run, followed by three Rangers errors in the bottom of the inning and a cathartic three-run homer by Jose Bautista.

“There are thousands of things going on,” Pintard said. “That’s the beauty of baseball. You’re going to see things you’ve never seen before.”

UNFINISHED SYMPHONY: Maybe the Dodgers were destined to fail because Vin Scully was sidelined during the postseason by a medical issue. Could they really win the championship unless Scully was there to sum it up with a witty expression? Here’s hoping he recovers fully and his voice will resonate all the way through October in 2016.

I happened to listen to Scully’s play-by-play for a few minutes on August 28, when the Dodgers were playing the Cubs. It had been announced before the game that he would return for his 67th season. Between pitches, Scully playfully recited some lines he’d seen on a T-shirt displaying the “Top 10 lies told by Cub fans.” Number one was: “The Bleacher Bums drink in moderation.” Others included “Wait ’til next year,” “We’ll never have lights,” and “Harry (Caray) is not drunk.” Then Scully — never failing to remind listeners of the score and the current situation — delved into baseball research and reported that “the most significant count of an at-bat is 1-and-1.” Who else could provide such entertainment and edification during five minutes of a baseball game?

MENDOZA’S LINES: Among Scully’s many admirers is Jessica Mendoza, who is making a name for herself in baseball broadcasting. Mendoza, an Olympic softball gold medalist and former assistant coach at UCSB, is the first woman to serve as commentator on a national telecast of a major-league playoff game. She worked alongside Dan Schulman and John Kruk while covering the Astros-Yankees Wild Card game on ESPN.

“I grew up going to Dodgers games,” said Mendoza, a Camarillo native. “I listened to [Scully’s] beautiful combination of analysis and interesting stories. It’s an art. I never thought I would end up in the booth.”

Mendoza excelled on the softball diamond. She was a four-time All-American at Stanford and played left field for the U.S. team that won the championship at the Athens Olympics in 2004. As a part-time coach at UCSB, she helped the Gauchos reach the postseason in 2006. “I enjoyed it, but I learned you can’t coach people the way you did it,” she said. “I had a ton of passion.”

ESPN producers recognized her enthusiasm, and she worked on the network’s coverage of college softball and baseball. She got a break in August when ESPN chose her to replace Curt Schilling as analyst on its Sunday Night Baseball games. Her observations during Jake Arrietta’s no-hitter against the Dodgers earned her good reviews.

There were aspersions against her in social media, mainly objecting to her distinctly female voice. In various interviews, she deflected the criticisms as deftly as she slapped pitches away while batting .416 during her career at Stanford. She would welcome substantive criticisms, she said, but most of the negative noise could be attributed to people’s resistance to change.

Mendoza will be back on ESPN’s baseball beat next season. She has appeared on SportsCenter during the playoffs. After the Mets’ Game 5 victory over the Dodgers, she offered a detailed analysis of the second-inning at-bat of L.A. rookie Corey Seager against pitcher Jacob deGrom. With two men on, Seager might have blown the game open with a hit, but deGrom got him to whiff on a changeup when he was expecting a 98 mph fastball.

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