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Dirtbags Recruit Merced College's A.J. Pinocchio


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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


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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Dirtbags Recruit Merced College's A.J. Pinocchio

From the Union-Democrat:
MERCED COLLEGE and Sonora product A.J. Pinocchio will be part of a Southern California powerhouse.


Coaches from Southern California baseball powerhouse Long Beach State University don't often look too far north for potential recruits.

But when it came to Sonora High School alumnus A.J. Pinocchio, Long Beach head coach Mike Weathers made an exception. Weathers scouted Pinocchio at Merced College, invited him on a recruiting visit and offered him a partial baseball scholarship.

"I'm really excited," said Pinocchio, who played at Merced the last two years. "I've dreamed about going there since I was 8 or 9. My dad told me about them first."

Long Beach State is one of the top 20 baseball programs in the nation. This year, it produced two Major League first-round draft picks in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies) and pitcher Cesar Ramos (San Diego Padres). The 49ers, who like to call themselves the Dirtbags for their aggressive, down-and-dirty style of play, finished with a 37-22 record in 2005 and were ranked No. 18 by Collegiate Baseball magazine and No. 19 by Baseball America. Their Ramos-led pitching staff had the lowest earned-run average in the nation at 2.53.

Weathers said Pinocchio will be competing for the shortstop position with freshman recruit Danny Espinosa, a 6-foot, 180-pounder from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, the same school that produced Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinart of USC.

"A.J. knows he has to come in and win the job,"Weathers said. "There are other infielders who want the job just as much."

"Southern California is a hotbed for junior college baseball," Merced coach Chris Pedretti said. "So for them to come into Northern California, that speaks highly for A.J. He was a leader for us on offense and defense."

Pinocchio, an-All Valley Oak League selection in his high school days, said he also had offers from other NCAA Division I schools, including San Jose State and Sacramento State. But Long Beach State was his "first choice."

Playing shortstop for Merced, he earned all-Central Valley Conference honors with a .361 batting average, 17 runs batted in, 11 doubles and four home runs. He received all-state honors from the California Community College Baseball Coaches Association and played in the 2005 Northern California All-Star Game at Sacramento City College.

A Long Beach assistant coach spotted Pinocchio first, and Weathers kept an eye on Pinocchio's process. He even watched him play in a CVC game against Fresno in May.

"We were going to be losing a shortstop (Tulowitzki) to the pro draft," Weathers said. "We needed an infielder, so A.J.'s name started popping up. We knew that Chris Pedretti produces good players, so we talked to him and he mentioned A.J."

The Blue Devils lost the game 11-4, but Weathers was impressed by Pinocchio's attitude and his determination to battle physical strain.

"He had a sore arm that day," Weathers said. "But I still saw enough of his action, leadership capabilities and his ability to play shortstop. He's a switch-hitter and I liked the way he swung the bat. I liked his passion for the game and the way he played the game. He looked like a guy who would fit into our program."

Long Beach plays in the Big West Conference along with three-time College World Series champion Fullerton State, and annually tangles with other heavyweights such as USC.

The 49ers made the College World Series in 1998 when one of the top pitchers was Summerville graduate Caleb Balbuena.

A.J. isn't the only Pinocchio to make sparks in the collegiate ranks. His cousin, Sonora graduate Ricky Pinocchio, also played at Merced and just finished his final season as an infielder for the University of California at San Diego.

posted on 7/02/2005 by Jeff Agnew

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