San Luis Obispo Rattlers manager Roy Howell described the Santa Barbara Foresters as the New York Yankees of summer baseball.
Anyone watching the teams play at SLO Stadium on Wednesday would have a hard time arguing as the Foresters won 9-3 to claim the first two games of a three-game California Collegiate League series.
“It’s tough, but a great experience for the players,” Howell said. “Any time you have a chance to play at the highest level, it’s tough.”
Santa Barbara boasts players from several of the country’s top college baseball programs. That consistent high level of talent has led the Foresters to 18 consecutive appearances at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.
The Foresters, which have won 13 in a row, are ranked No. 2 in the nation by a poll on PerfectGame.org.
While the Foresters boast 25 players with Division I experience, the Rattlers have just one position player (Scott Phillion of Central Michigan) that can claim the same distinction.
“(Foresters manager) Bill (Pintard) runs a nice program,” Howell said. “He gets players from the top schools. Kids want to come out and play for him and try to get to Wichita and win the title.”
Howell said that with Santa Barbara’s players already playing at a level that will likely get them drafted, the goals of the two teams differ dramatically.
The differences between the programs was no more apparent than last season when former Cal Poly pitcher Matt Leonard, now in the Reds minor league system, threw a 149-pitch no-hitter against the Rattlers.
“That’s the difference in philosophy,” Howell said. “We’re more geared to help kids. I’m not saying the Foresters don’t do that, but we have limited Division I talent here. We’re trying to help our kids develop enough that they can eventually play on that level.”
The Rattlers struggled to reach base Wednesday night against Santa Barbara (31-7, 21-5 CCL) pitchers hailing from Oklahoma State, Texas and USC.
Robert Vickers was 3 for 3 with a walk, and Cuesta College’s Mitchell Prophet added two hits for the Rattlers (17-20, 7-19). The two combined for all but three of San Luis Obispo’s hits.
“They had a guy out there throwing a curve and I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” Howell said. “That guy will be pitching in the majors. You couldn’t even see it. You’d need a canoe paddle to hit the ball.”
Still, Howell said that facing that kind of opposition is what will help the players better prepare themselves for the eventuality of higher competition.
“You always want to beat the best,” Howell said. “They are the best. They’re like the Yankees and that’s 100 percent a compliment.”
San Luis Obispo Blues 12, MLB Urban Academy Barons 5
Fresno State’s J.D. Salles remained unbeaten after allowing a run on three hits in six innings. He walked four and struck out three.
Rafael Neda broke the game open with a three-run homer in the fifth inning to give the Blues (24-14, 18-10 CCL) a 5-1 lead.
Mike Kindel had three hits for San Luis Obispo while Neda, Ryan Aguayo, Matt Juengel, Cory Burleson and Michael Sullivan had two each.
Tribune staff contributed to this report.