Welcome to Dirtbags Baseball blog! I was introduced to Long Beach State baseball in 2002 when my nephew, Neil Jamison, joined the team (and university) as a freshman. I started the blog in March of 2004, and generally discuss the team, current players and those that have moved on to professional baseball - as Neil has done in the San Diego Padres organization. Living in San Diego County, and with Neil moving to the next level, I won't be attending as many Dirtbags games. But, mostly from a distance, I'll remain a Dirtbags fan. I welcome tips on stories and information concerning the Dirtbags (current, past and future). I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Mike Weathers still talks about the 2004 Dirtbags season as if it was a death in the family.
Long Beach State's baseball team beat Stanford in the NCAA regionals and came home to Blair Field to host Arizona in the super regional with a spot in the College World Series at stake. The Dirtbags took a lead into the ninth inning of Game 1, before losing. They were an out away from a Game 3 win that would have sent them to Omaha, for the first time since 1998, before losing.
It was all bad. A gifted defensive team, sixth nationally, made errors. Pitching decisions on a squad with the best pitcher, Jered Weaver, and the fourth-best staff (3.11 ERA) in the nation backfired. The Dirtbags ran themselves into outs.
Time hasn't dissipated the pain enough, perhaps because it was magnified by watching the Dirtbags' blood rival, Cal State Fullerton, ride a late-season winning streak to the national title.
In fact, Dirtbags head coach Weathers has spent a lot of time talking about it with his 2005 team, which opens its season with Thursday's annual Lead-Off Dinner and Saturday's alumni game.
"We underachieved as a team," Weathers said. "You don't always get a team with the ability to get to the World Series, and we had our chance and didn't get it done.
"We were all disappointed. It wasn't a good feeling to lose at home and end the season like that. So we all talked about what went wrong so that we can learn from it."
It isn't nostalgia that fuels the feelings. It's expectations. Dave Snow created a program that almost instantly became a national power and has become, along with women's volleyball, the premier programs at the university.
Weathers embraced that fully. There was a tremendous sense of confidence around the program and the coaches didn't do a lot of experimentation.
Weathers admits he didn't spend as much time developing his roster as he would have if the opportunities for the ultimate road trip hadn't been such a reachable goal. It shows in the stats.
Five pitchers starters Jered Weaver, Jason Vargas and Cesar Ramos and relievers Brian Anderson and Neil Jamison accounted for 462 of the Dirtbags' 541 1/3 innings pitched. There certainly wasn't any reason for him to mess with success.
Plus, nonconference schedules on the West Coast are hardly exhibitions. The Dirtbags faced ranked teams in all nine of 10 non-Big West series in 2004 (two games or more). NCAA seedings being what they are, there was an incentive to win those series.
The Dirtbags were 30-9 and unbeaten in the Big West through late April. But then were unexpectedly swept at Blair by an unheralded UCSB team, which knocked them off stride. They ended the regular season with seven straight losses, three each to Fullerton and Miami.
No shame there. But six of the Dirtbags' last nine losses were by one run. That makes for a lot of offseason what-ifs and second-guessing.
"I have to do a better job developing (his younger players)," Weathers said. "We could have used a few more fresh arms last year."
The 2005 edition won't match the ability of the 2004 squad simply because the 2004 team was loaded. Weaver (15-1, 1.62 ERA) virtually swept all of college baseball's 2004 awards, and Vargas (7-8 on the mound, .354 at the plate) went on to have the best short-season of any 2004 major league draftee. Catcher Brad Davis (.329), left fielder John Bowker (.320) and first baseman Mike Hofius (.291, team-high 48 RBI) are also gone.
But a strong nucleus remains, topped by shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and left-hander Cesar Ramos, who won gold medals for the U.S. national team this past summer. They're the 2005 edition of Bobby Crosby and Abe Alvarez.
Besides Tulowitzki, five other starters return to the lineup, topped by third baseman Danny Mocny (.318) and Sean Boatright (.330), who missed half of 2004 to injury.
Weathers thinks the 2005 team will be quicker and more athletic than the 2004 team, fitting the contours of Blair. Weathers has added a fleet of hitting stars from the junior college ranks to supplement the returnees.
Los Alamitos High product Brandon Godfrey is a former Junior Olympic team member slated to replace Hofius, and Weathers will find a place in the lineup for Evan Longoria, who hit .430 for Rio Hondo last season.
Ramos (12-4, 2.29) becomes the ace of the staff and will fill the series opener role held by Alvarez and Weaver before him. Jamison (4.35, 12 saves), last season's closer, will be given a shot at the rotation along with two newcomers.
Cody Evans won a CIF title at Edison, went 9-2 at Golden West last season and is coming off a great summer season in the Cape Cod League. Jared Hughes was a prep All-American and former first-round draft pick who transferred in from Santa Clara and is healthy after more than a year of shoulder problems.
Brian Anderson (2.98 ERA) was a solid setup man in 2004 and Brandon Villalobos pitched well as a true freshman filling the midweek starting spot. If Jamison makes the rotation, Marco Estrada, a power pitcher from Glendale, could take over his spot as the closer.
The Dirtbags may not have as much talent on the 2005 team as last season, but they do have an advantage of knowing how much 2004 hurt.
Very interesting perspective. On April 30, 2004, just before the wheels came off against UCSB, the Dirtbags ascended back into first place in the ERA race - topping the Texas Longhorns. Bob is right, it's hard to be critical of Coach Weathers continuing to go with what had worked well for three months. But from Mike Weathers comments, it definitely appears that more guys will get a few innings in so when one of the regulars slumps others are ready to go.