Wednesday, August 15 , 2018, 1:19 am | Fair 68º


Santa Barbara Foresters Dole Out Hugs for Cubs

The semi-pro baseball team spends quality time with kids battling cancer as a part of an ongoing program started by manager Bill Pintard.

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Dodgers fan Manuel “Junior” Huerta, 9, is the center of attention for the Santa Barbara Foresters. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)

The smiles were brighter than usual at the oncology wing of Santa Barbara Cottage Children’s Hospital on Thursday when the Santa Barbara Foresters semi-pro baseball team paid a visit. The athletes are part of a program called Hugs for Cubs, which connects baseball players with kids battling cancer.

Foresters manager Bill Pintard said the program “makes our players realize baseball is just a game and they are fortunate to be able to play it.” Pintard founded Hugs for Cubs in 1995 with his son, Eric, who died in 2004 after a long battle with brain cancer.

The young men come to Santa Barbara to play baseball, but Pintard makes sure the season is also about creating relationships and benefiting kids who are having a tough time with cancer.

“We took at bunch of kids to an Angels game, we have a surf day coming up, we do bowling nights at Zodo’s,” he said. “It really puts things into perspective.”

The program serves as a legacy to Eric Pintard, organized by both his father and uncle, Dave Pintard.

“Eric was an incredible human being,” said Dave, who serves as chairman of the program. “He would light up any room.”

The guys, in full uniform, came prepared with baseball hats, Beanie Babies and T-shirts to hand out. The first patient they visited was Manuel “Junior” Huerta, 9, who is battling cancer. His mom, Veronica Barefort, watched as an entire baseball team squeezed into her son’s hospital room.

“This is exciting,” said Barefort. “He wasn’t smiling, and now he is.”

Jaynie Wood is the Child Life Specialist in Pediatrics at Cottage and has been involved with the Hugs for Cubs program for more than a decade.

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Junior Huerta and Ian Berger spend some time hanging out together. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)
“It benefits the kids tremendously,” she said. “It gives them a chance to interact with great model figures — great inspiration.”

The players often talk to patients about one of their favorite subjects — baseball.

“We will ask them who their favorite player is, favorite team,” said Ian Berger, a 21-year-old pitcher from the University of Missouri.

Junior was met with a rowdy response when the team asked him what his favorite sport was and he answered, “Football!” followed by his favorite baseball team, “The Dodgers!” He happily received a Dodgers hat. Later, players signed programs for the kids.

One of the most refreshing parts of the morning is how the patients, although going through a tough time, are still just kids. Coraima Alonzo, 5, was shy but visibly excited at her throng of visitors. When Pintard asked her what her favorite thing to do was, she answered, “I like food things.” The players laughed — they couldn’t argue with that one.

Center fielder Kevin Muno, 20, from the University of San Diego, said the program is a great opportunity to give back.

“We just give ‘em some smiles and try to make their day that much better,” he said.

At the end of the hour, Wood gathers the guys for a quick goodbye. She says she knew Eric when he was fighting cancer, holding his hand as he got his CT scan.

“What you do today profoundly affects the kids here,” she reminded the team, which expressed its sentiment in true baseball form — a huddle and cheer around the grateful Wood.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at [email protected]

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