By Rick Assad
As a key member on the Burroughs High baseball team that scooped up the CIF Southern Section Division V championship, it was like reaching the summit for Nick Forrest.
There was an opposite feeling in 2023 when Forrest’s senior season was limited to being a cheerleader after the right-handed pitcher/first baseman had right shoulder surgery and missed the entire campaign.
“To say that I was disappointed is an understatement. When I found out about the results from my MRI, I was pretty devastated,” said the incoming Northeastern University freshman in Boston, who will major in mechanical engineering and design and walk-on the baseball team as a sophomore. “I looked forward to another good year with the team, with possibilities of going even further in the division and state playoffs.”
Forrest, who went 7-1 with a 1.51 earned-run average while striking out 89 and walking 19 across 55 and one-third innings as a junior and the Division V Player of the Year, an All-CIF first team pick, Pacific League Player of the Year and All-Region first team, tried to keep a positive approach.
“In reality, I spent my time helping out the team with what I could. Showed up at every practice,” he said. “My teammates were continuously supportive of me despite my inability to play and I stood by them through every tough game of the season, win or loss. I was part of the team simply by cheering in the dugout and keeping track of stats and signs for both teams. Although disappointing, I was still happy to support.”
Along with Gunnar Nichols, a freshman hurler at Pepperdine University, Forrest, who played three seasons on the varsity, was nearly unbeatable in 2022 and especially down the stretch.
“My junior year I was incredibly focused in every game. In games against tougher opponents, rather than being intimidated, I was motivated,” he said. “Throughout the season Gunnar and I went back and forth with me starting every other game and there would be some days that I’d be jealous that he was facing a tough team, but I knew I had to rest.”
Forrest added: “On the mound, my mindset has always been the same, even when I was little. Throw strikes, hit my spots, stay neutral on the mound, celebrate after,” he said. “I tend to come out of a lot of clutch situations unscathed because I can calm down, look up at the moon at night, or surroundings and breath, then focus and imagine a glove and a ball, nothing else. I’d like to say that I was just being me. I wasn’t trying to do anything flashy out of character, just do my job to the best of my ability. I was having fun and that motivated me and resulted in my dominance.”
That emotional high when the Bears captured their first-ever CIF title was euphoric.
“My junior year with varsity baseball will be the most profound memory,” Forrest said. “Spending time day and night with my teammates in the weight rooms, at batting practice, or team lunches to bond. During our playoff run, we’d stop by an In-N-Out every game and celebrate on the bus. The playoff run was the most memorable.”
The leader of the band is Matt Magallon, the Burroughs coach, who spoke glowingly of Forrest, who batted fifth and hit for a .307 average with 16 runs batted in, four extra-base hits, a .352 slugging percentage and a .374 on-base percentage.
“I can’t say enough about Nick Forrest. He is a key reason for the quick success that we have had at changing the culture at Burroughs into a championship culture. Not only is he a great baseball player, but he is even a better person and leader,” he said. “He truly cares about people and teammates. He will be extremely missed, and we know that he will do great things at Northeastern. Once he is ready to play, he will have a great opportunity to be a key part of their team.”
Looking for an edge, Forrest, the Bears’ Offensive Player of the Year who had a .487 batting average and was selected All-League second team as a sophomore, was always trying to get better.
“The critical person that I am would say that I am never at my best because I always think I could’ve done more and can improve more but I think my best game was my start and shutout against Tustin in the semifinals to bring us to the championship,” he said. “I struck out the first nine batters that I faced and ended with 12 strikeouts. I did well at the plate with two hits. I was determined.”
All the while, the question could be asked: what was going on in Forrest’s mind during a game?
“As I said before, I’m just calm. I might say in my mind “let’s have some fun” or “you can’t hit this.” On the mound I always start each at-bat not wanting the batter to even touch the ball as long as I hit my spots. I believe that they won’t,” he said. “At the plate, I like to greet the umpire and the catcher, crack a joke and then focus on one thing, hit a fastball, react to anything else. Like in pitching, I do well in a lot of two-strike or clutch situations because I can calm myself down easily.”
What ingredients make for a winning hurler?
“To be a successful pitcher you need to have discipline of different counts, different hitters’ builds and tendencies, and strong focus to block out all other noise,” Forrest said. “Constantly tweak and improve grips for different pitches and practice accuracy. The ability to understand the technical parts of the game, taking into account different situations and when time to pitch, quiet your mind and just throw the ball relying on your physical ability. That makes a good pitcher at any level.”
Magallon has this explanation for Forrest’s good fortune.
“What made him special was the confidence and composure he had. He threw most of the time at the away games because we knew he could handle the crowds and adversity,” he explained. “He is without a doubt one of the best players to come to Burroughs and being the CIF and Pacific League Player of the Year should make him an easy selection into the Burroughs Hall of Fame.”
Nichols spoke about what made his onetime teammate at Burroughs so valuable.
“Nick was a competitor. He would give it his all on the field,” he said. “He was also good at shifting his determination over to making a strong relationship with his teammates.”
The day of the game was always meaningful, and especially when Forrest was on the hill.
“Game Day was something that I looked forward to every week, especially when I would be pitching,” he said. “I’d usually take a nap after school or on the bus before the game to get some extra energy. For pitching, starting your stretches and a short pole to pole run was always important for me. I liked to put in a lot of warm-up pitches before my start. Resting and sitting on the bench, getting ready to run to the mound always got my mind together and, in a game ready mindset but it all starts from the moment you wake up, focused on the game.”
Being on the winning side is always the goal but there were times when it wasn’t for Forrest.
“In the event of a tough outing, usually a coach would come to take me out of the game,” he said. “I’d ask to go one more inning, and based on his decision, if I went back to the bench, I’d be disappointed but focus on my hitting or any other way I could push my team to win. After the game, I’d reflect on mistakes at practice or by myself the next day and simply address them. I never thought of a bad outing as a horrible thing, just a learning curve.”
One can garner much during their time on the field.
“Besides the ability to be a team player, baseball and other sports have allowed me to be a very empathetic person, both emotionally and in thought processes,” Forrest noted. “I could see problems or subjects from multiple different perspectives. Take, for example, my physics class. Baseball gave me a better understanding of projectile motion and different physical applications into formulas. Baseball allowed me to read people’s emotions better and how they work in a classroom setting.”
Whatever Forrest accomplishes next on the baseball diamond, a belief in himself and his teammates on that Friday in Orange County at Goodwin Field on the campus of Cal State Fullerton will always ring true.
“The day of the championship was exhilarating. Playing on a truly well-kept field was a great feeling and the crowd was almost overwhelming. The entire game we relied on Gunnar Nichols’ skills as a pitcher. At times during the game, it was unbelievably nerve wracking as it was a 0-0 ballgame,” he recalled of that 1-0 victory on Mason Medina’s single. “However, at the end I caught the final out at first base from a ground ball to Andrew Chapman and ran into the dog pile. Our school has never won a baseball division championship let alone entered one in our 74-year school’s history and I was happy to be a big part of it.”
It was a joyous occasion for everyone rooting for the Bears and never more so than when Forrest recorded that final out.