Sam Gonzales represents what Winters High School is all about.
The senior infielder grew up in this rural town in Yolo County, where farmers, retired scientists and small-shop owners attend games for the fresh air and the view of their beloved Warriors racing around the bases.
Gonzales is an honors student who has been equally fierce in play, having roped nine triples this season to go with 17 stolen bases and a hefty .468 batting average. His toughest teacher? That would be his mother, Polita.
She teaches AP Spanish at Winters. And where does Sam sit come class time?
"In the front row!" he said this week, laughing. "I can't get away. No slacking allowed."
He continued, "My parents grew up here. I love growing up here. The great thing about living in a small town is everyone knows you. You do well, and they know, and they let you know about it. You don't do well, and they know. We want to do well."
The Warriors have done exceptionally well. At 22-1, Winters is in the midst of perhaps its finest season, which is saying something since baseball has been played here for 70 years. The championship pennants that hang on the infield fence include the 1924 team. Remember them? And they're running out of room on that fence and in the trophy case for all the CIF Northern Section accolades.
Coach Jeff Ingles has led the team to 13 of those section banners in 19 title-game appearances, having won the last two and bearing down on another. Ingles anchors the program, the constant voice and presence who uses positive reinforcement as a motivator.
He was a four-sport athlete at the school, graduating in 1980. Eight years later, he became the varsity baseball coach, and he hasn't left the third-base coaching box since.
He won a section title his first season and is leading his 30th playoff team and inching closer to his 20th league championship. He has won 565 games.
"Best team we've had, and we've had some great ones," Ingles said. "I'm proud of these kids. They play the game the right way."
Ingles said two things stand out beyond any pitching totals or batting averages.
"We have a 3.5 team GPA," Ingles said. "They're good students and good players. The most amazing thing is we don't have a single player (on the 15-man roster) who comes from a broken home. That's unheard of these days – anywhere. It may be the only time it's happened here, but it shows we have some great families and parents who make it work, and we're a close group."
Ingles is a product of a broken home, raised by a single mother. He didn't get to meet his father until the 1970s, "when my name was in the paper for what I was doing in sports here," Ingles said.
"Mom was married three times," Ingles added. "I think that's why I never got married. I threw myself into this instead, and it's been quite a ride.
"Winters baseball is who and what I am."
He has no children, but he has two dogs that hustle across the outfield after each home game. Another staple of the local field can be seen high above the left-field line, where spectators camp out in lawn chairs on the roofs of houses. Sometimes they catch foul balls. Or they watch as one clears the outfield fence.
Richard Crum is a regular behind the backstop. A retired grape researcher at UC Davis who "put four kids through college from all the firewood I cut and sold around here."
"This never gets old, watching these kids play the right way, and there isn't a better coach than Jeff Ingles," Crum said. "Great discipline, great teams. They've made the town proud."
Crum played for Winters in the 1960s under Hugh Randolph, who coached in the 1950s and '60s. The field bears his name. Among his great players: Rich Chiles, a first-round pick of the Houston Astros in 1968; Byron Randolph, who tossed a state-record four consecutive no-hitters for Winters in 1963 and logged time in the minors; and Spider Thomas, a power pitcher who reached Triple A and became one of the region's most successful high school basketball coaches at Kennedy in the 1980s and '90s.
Winters has an enrollment of 437 students, and it doesn't just pick on teams its own size. The Warriors take on all comers, fearing no challenge.
The Warriors are ranked No. 9 by The Bee, the highest for the program since the 1960s. They beat area power Christian Brothers 3-2 and larger-school Pioneer of Woodland 7-2 and 16-0. Against schools of comparable size, the Warriors have not been tested, including a 10-0 rout of longtime Northern Section power Sutter on Wednesday.
On Friday, senior Anthony Carrion pitched a perfect game in Winters' 13-0 win over visiting Pierce. The game was called after the fifth inning because of the mercy rule.
Laguna Creek, ranked 15th by The Bee, recently called to schedule a game with Winters for next week. Ingles gladly accepted.
Winters' only loss was to Liberty Ranch of Galt, 11-8.
The growth of the town is evident with bulldozers working over fields behind the baseball diamond. New houses are coming. The population is 7,144, up from 2,500 in the 1970s. The beauty of a small town, Ingles said, is he can take a peek at future teams. He regularly attends Little League games, standing as something of a reluctant celebrity. He offers insight and clinics on how the Warriors play. The kids live to be Warriors.
"We're all home-grown here," Ingles said. "Those Little League kids will all wind up here. I love that."
The team batting average is .345. Anthony Carrion is hitting .354, Daniel Carrion .393, Brandon Gomez .348, Jacob Roberts .373 and Ruben Valencia .371.
Gomez, a sophomore, is 8-0 with an 0.32 ERA. Anthony Carrion is 4-0 with a 1.41 ERA and Daniel Carrion is 3-0 with a 0.58 ERA. Roberts is 4-1 with an 0.86 ERA.
"We're hitting well, pitching, playing great defense," said Gonzales, a team captain. "And we have a great coach who is super knowledgeable and teaches us how to play the right way."