Moments after being doused with an ice bucket in a postgame celebration by his players, Chal Fanning was reflective.
Fanning already had coached plenty of quality baseball teams during his eight previous seasons with the San Luis Obispo Blues, but this year’s club now has a unique reason to be remembered.
Early into their 5-0 nonleague win over the San Luis Obispo Rattlers on Sunday afternoon at SLO Stadium, the Blues learned that Team Vegas had put the finishing touches on a 6-4 road win over the Santa Barbara Foresters. That all-important bit of news meant the Blues had clinched at least a share of the California Collegiate League championship, a first for the franchise.
“It was a dream season,” Fanning said while he dried in the sun.
The Blues had to wait to learn of the Las Vegas-Santa Barbara outcome after a game between those two late Saturday night was postponed in a 4-4 seventh-inning tie because of darkness, only to be resumed Sunday, before the start of a regularly scheduled matchup.
“It made for better drama,” Fanning quipped. “I owe Las Vegas a steak dinner down the road some day.”
Santa Barbara, which came into the day No. 6 in PerfectGame.org’s summer collegiate National Top 35 Rankings, went on to beat Las Vegas 8-1 in their second game, meaning the Blues (34-15) and Foresters (36-13) each finished 24-12 in the CCL standings.
Thus, while the Foresters remain a dynasty, having now won at least a share of the title nine straight times, the Blues — ranked No. 9 in the country — have something to show for the ground they’ve gained on their Highway 101 rivals.
“It’s definitely something we can build off of,” Fanning said. “This summer, overall from top-to-bottom, has been hugely successful.”
The Blues nearly doubled their total attendance from last year. Sunday’s game was no exception, as a crowd of more than 900 spilled onto the grass for the intracity clash.
The Rattlers finished the season 23-20-2 in their first campaign as a freelance developmental program under the Blues’ co-ownership.
Although the CCL title is accompanied by a spot in the upcoming National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., the Blues chose to stay home rather than impose too much of the funding on their players.
“With the economy, that would’ve been a little irresponsible,” Fanning said.
But missing out on a postseason trip was of no matter to the Blues’ players. Two of them with local ties — catcher Thomas Bernal and reliever Nick Grim — each were a factor in the regular-season finale.
Bernal, a 2010 Paso Robles High grad who redshirted at Kentucky this past season, had a two-run single in the sixth inning, and was hit by a bases-loaded pitch in the seventh. After originally heading to the SEC as a recruited walk-on infielder, Bernal was converted to catcher. He said the in-game reps behind the plate this summer have “helped (him) a ton.”
Bernal finished the season batting .244 with 23 RBI, and finished with a nine-game hitting streak.
“It gave me some good innings,” Bernal said of the summer. “Hopefully in the fall I can prove I can hit and just find myself a spot.”
Grim, a 6-foot-3 right-hander from Monterey Peninsula College who signed with Cal Poly in November, struck out half of the four batters he faced while giving up a hit in one inning of work.
Drafted in the 14th round by the Florida Marlins, Grim has until Aug. 15 to decide whether to use his third year of collegiate eligibility or go straight into the minors. He indicated that unless the Marlins overwhelm him with a pending offer, he’s planning to stay put. He had a 5.12 ERA this summer over 31 2⁄3 innings, with 51 strikeouts and 18 walks.
“Right now I’m leaning towards coming to Cal Poly,” said Grim, who’s from Salinas. Grim has multiple family members who attended the university and said he loves the town. “Plus, maybe just one more year of that college experience would always help you out in professional baseball.”
The Blues, who already reached a milestone earlier this year when they gave Fanning his 300th career win, eclipsed another one Sunday, surpassing 500 strikeouts as a team.
“We played really well this summer,” Grim said. “Everybody had a great time, and it was just a great way to cap off the summer, on the last day, to find out we’re co-champions.”