Over a year after their spring season came to an abrupt halt, the Long Beach State Dirtbags are ready to dust themselves off and get back up along the baselines on Bohl Diamond at Blair Field.
With only a month of practice since beginning Feb. 15, the Dirtbags will jump right into Big West Conference action March 19 on the road against Hawai’i, who stood fourth in the 2020 season before its cancelation with an 11-6 record.
“Going to Hawaii for the first game, it’s not easy flying five to six hours and practicing in a place like this and playing a very good team,” Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela said.
For their home opener on March 26, the Dirtbags will be up against California State University, Northridge, which will also be the team’s first virtual homecoming.
Despite the shortened practice time, the team should feel confident coming onto the diamond. Before the cancelation of last season, the Dirtbags had won four straight series and were ranked 12th in the nation. The 2021 season will be the second for Valenzuela.
“Preparing has been different for sure, we can make every excuse but we refuse,” Valenzuela said. “Our guys have been working out on their own to get prepared, and we have put in a lot.”
Long Beach State was picked to finish second in the Big West in the 2021 preseason Coaches Poll.
“Our preseason raking is something I’m not sure our guys look at. Winning our conference would be awesome, but coming in second on the poll shows some respect which is awesome,” Valenzuela said.
The Beach finished with a total of 96 first-place votes, one point ahead of University of California, Irvine and two points ahead of Cal Poly. University of California, Santa Barbara finished first in the rankings with 119 points.
Due to the coronavirus-imposed cancelation of last season, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has kept a year of eligibility for all student athletes. Because of this, the roster is made up of mostly young players, with only 12 junior and senior standing players and 29 freshmen and sophomores.
The Beach lost a key player in 2020 in Jacob Hughey, who retired after having his last season cut short. The loss leaves the position of first basemen to senior Cole Joy, who has been active on the team for two years.
With a great number of talented players and depth, Valenzuela said the last week of practice will be spent examining players closely to determine who gets what position.
“There are still some battles going on. We have a lot of older guys and talented freshmen, so we are going to give guys a lot of different opportunities,” Valenzuela said.
This season will be quite different than past years for the Dirtbags in terms of scheduling, as the team will only play conference opponents in four-game weekend series throughout a 40-game schedule. The team can schedule a game against a non-conference opponent before Big West play begins but can only play one opponent each week.
With the return to the field, the Dirtbags are also welcoming renovations such as the Steve Traschel Bullpen, which was funded by the CSULB Hall of Famer himself. The new bullpen will be along the third baseline and features BATS technology that will allow the team to use video to analyze the mechanics of each player.
Although fans will not be allowed in the stands, games will be streamed on BeachVision or by broadcast partners on ESPN, which will be posted on the team’s schedule page as they become available.
Valenzuela said that the Dirtbags will have to rely on themselves to provide the missing energy in the stands that fans once contributed.
“The guys in the dugout will bring that energy and won’t play with any lack of energy,” Valenzuela said.