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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The first time Troy Tulowitzki put on his Long Beach State hat, someone called him Crosby Jr. The reference was to Bobby Crosby, his predecessor as Dirtbags shortstop who won 2004 American League rookie of the year honors with the Athletics.
Tulowitzki admits the comparisons to a 2001 first-round draft pick were flattering at first, but he wanted to sculpt his own image rather than live up to someone else's. The junior has accomplished that task during his college career, though he's met and befriended Crosby along the way. Most scouts add that Tulowitzki also has surpassed him.
"He's better than Bobby Crosby," a National League scout said. "He could play in the big leagues right now. He can hit, hit for power and he's the whole package defensively with a plus-plus arm."
That skill set and an impressive 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame could vault Tulowitzki into the first five picks of the draft. He credits Crosby, with whom he speaks over the phone twice a week, for helping him hone his game with tips that include learning to read grounders and to make decisions on coming in quickly, waiting back or darting into the hole to pick them. The rest of the credit goes to Tulowitzki's natural athleticism and his own work ethic.
"He's got serious range, first-step quickness; he can cut the angle down," coach Mike Weathers said. "I don’t think he can play his way out of the position like some guys talk about because of his size.
"Most of the plays I am amazed about, the balls up the middle, he runs through a ball to his right and comes in and throws off balance as good as I've ever seen. That play to me is what separates him from most shortstops."
Weathers also raves about Tulowitzki's grind-it-out mentality and leadership abilities. That's why the shortstop found things so difficult when a broken hamate bone in his left hand pushed him to the bench for 20 games from early February through late March. For a Long Beach State offense already limited by the hitter's graveyard that is Blair Field, losing a player whose seven home runs in 124 at-bats (and .363/.444/.637 numbers) this year lead the team was difficult.
Tulowitzki, a baseball rat who said his life away from the field mostly includes lifting weights and playing baseball video games, sat helplessly on the bench as the Dirtbags lost five of their first six games without him in the lineup. That stretch included getting swept by California in a weekend series in which they scored seven total runs.
"I'm so competitive, I want to help my teammates," said Tulowtizki, who took a call from Crosby reminding him to stay positive. "When we got swept by Cal we left a lot of runners on base; I wish one of those at-bats I could have gone up there."
Tulowitzki's desire to return carried him back into the lineup at least a week earlier than expected. Trainer Nate Peck cleared him to swing a bat the same Friday that the team played its late-March nonconference series against rival Cal State Fullerton.
Tulowitzki hit from the tee, then took some soft toss and finally moved into live batting practice before telling Weathers he was ready to play. Peck found no reason to hold the shortstop out. He collected one hit in the series, an RBI double in the opener, but his return to the lineup gave the team the spark it needed to hand Fullerton its only series loss of the year.
"Just the presence he brings to the game is uplifting," lefthander Cesar Ramos said. "He's always grinding and wanting to win. It's always good to have a guy that's going to be a high first-round pick back. When he was out, he was really frustrated at not being able to play. He wanted to rip off his cast."
Tulowitzki and No. 10 Long Beach State face Fullerton again this weekend, and again the Titans hold the No. 1 ranking entering the series between the top two teams in the Big West Conference. Another series win would give the Dirtbags a great shot at serving as a regional host. Tulowitzki's hand has improved since that first series, though he's had to limit the number of swings he takes in practice because he still feels some soreness at times.
"Playing-wise, I'm where I need to be, but I'm not as strong because I can't lift weights the way I want to," Tulowitzki said. "It was difficult going through the injury, not knowing what was going to happen when I came back or if I was going to be the same player, but it's worked out."
It looks like the draft will work out fine for him as well. Initially, there were questions about how he would return from the injury, but he's pulled through nicely. He's showing the power to all fields that drew attention last year when he hit two homers to right-center field in helping Long Beach State win a regional at Stanford. He backed up that performance by winning Team USA's starting shortstop job over Georgia Tech's Tyler Greene and capped it with eight hits and several sparkling defensive plays in a season-opening series at Arizona State this year.
"At this point he's proved who he is and who wanted him," Weathers said. "I don’t think he has to prove anything more, especially to the pro people--they already know. They've all been in here the last couple weeks and everybody's asking about him. He's going to go real well."
Tulowitzki, who grew up an Athletics fan near the Bay Area in Sunnyvale, looks like a good bet to reach his goal of playing in the major leagues, though he hopes that opportunity comes for any other team.
"Bobby's already playing there, so they don’t need me," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be somewhere else and we can start a friendly little rivalry."