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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In the middle of February, there were ominous signs swirling around the Long Beach State baseball team, as the Dirtbags were on a five-game losing streak and as two of their important players, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and center fielder Sean Boatright, were sidelined with injuries.
It would have been understandable if the team's esteemed coach, Mike Weathers, had been in a panicked state, since, after all, he had lost so many vital performers from last season's powerful aggregation, including the peerless pitcher, Jered Weaver, along with such fellows as Jason Vargas, John Bowker, Brad Davis, Mike Hofius and Josh Buhagiar.
But Weathers is a lifetime baseball guy with patience who understands the maddening cyclical nature of the game a trait he displayed often during his seven-year minor league career in the Oakland A's system and he was confident his club would have a turnabout.
And it certainly has.
But not even he could have envisioned what has unfolded since those dark February times, as the 49ers have regrouped impressively to emerge as one of the top teams in the nation with their 35-17 record, ranking 10th in one national poll and 13th in the other two.
"I'd have to say that, considering the circumstances, this has been my most satisfying season here as head coach," says Weathers, who is in his fourth season as field commander of the 49ers and whose team will conclude its Big West Conference schedule this weekend on the road against rival Cal State Fullerton. "I started this season wondering how life after Jered Weaver would be. We lost not only Jered, but several other starters from last year's team, including a pitcher the caliber of Jason Vargas and a four-year catcher like Brad Davis.
"But guys have really stepped up and done well. The biggest question mark was our pitching staff, and that has been the biggest surprise of the year as we're now leading the nation in earned-run average (2.24). I can't say enough good things about our starters, Cesar Ramos, Marco Estrada and Jared Hughes, or our setup man, Brian Anderson, or our closer, Neil Jamison, who hasn't given up an earned run in 23 innings. You have to give credit for such production to our pitching coach, Troy Buckley."
While the 49er batsmen haven't matched the brilliance of the team's pitchers, they have had their moments of production that, alas, wasn't too evident last weekend when they managed only seven runs in the three games against Cal Poly SLO. Typically, the Dirtbags won two of them.
Tulowitzki has returned from his 20-game absence because of a left wrist injury that required surgery, and has been prolific, leading the 49ers in average (.363) and home runs (7), and second in RBI (25).
"He's just a terrific young player," says Weathers, who has compared Tulowitzki favorably to his 49er predecessor, Bobby Crosby, last season's American League Rookie of the Year with the A's.
Weathers admits he was concerned before the season about who would handle his pitchers behind the plate, but Chris Jones, a Fresno City College transfer who played in only 10 games caddying for Brad Davis in 2004, has turned out to be a steady performer.
He not only has worked deftly with the Dirtbag pitchers, but also has done well offensively, batting .311 with 23 RBI.
Sean Boatright has come back from the hamstring injury that kept him out of 10 games to lead the team in doubles (15) and RBI (28) while hitting .317 and fielding admirably in center field.
The Dirtbags are 13-5 in the Big West Conference, and Mike Weathers knows if his team can win a couple games against first-place Fullerton that it would enhance its chances of hosting an NCAA regional.
He also knows the Dirtbags won't be intimidated by the defending national champions, whom they took two of three from earlier in the season in a nonconference series.
"What makes me exceptionally proud of this Dirtbag team is the positive way it has reacted to adversity," says Weathers. "This has been a far more challenging year for me because it's the first time since I've become the Dirtbags' head coach that the team wasn't pretty well set. There was a big unknown factor, and the new players have come through very well."
So, of course, has Mike Weathers, an outgoing, affable 56-year-old, 1967 graduate of Warren High in Downey who went on to play baseball at Chapman College and was Oakland's first-round selection in 1971.
He would become immersed in the minors because the A's had a couple of other more promising young second basemen in their system named Phil Garner and Manny Trillo, both of whom went on to have solid major league careers.
Mike Weathers went on to become a college baseball coach after he hung up his bat and glove for good at age 29, first as the top man at Chapman for 14 seasons, then as an assistant under Dave Snow in Long Beach for eight seasons before succeeding Snow in 2002.
He says he still savors the competitive aspect of his job and getting to work with young players, but admits he could do without the bureaucratic part.
"I don't enjoy having to deal with all the rules like the new NCAA graduation rate guidelines," he says. "One wonders why athletes are singled out, and regular students going to college aren't. That part of the job is nerve-wracking, and makes it harder to recruit. As it is, so many players out of high school are being drafted. And, unfortunately, because of the new rules, I think a lot more players are going to take the money and turn professional."
Still, Mike Weathers says he plans to remain a while at his current station, which means Dirtbag baseball figures to continue to be a successful entity in the upcoming seasons.