As much as we have praised Dirtbags outfielder Calvin Estrada for his incredible baseball abilities, we have also failed to give him the credit he deserves.
For as many headlines as the media has written his name in, for as many times as students have told their roommates “you’ve gotta see this guy play,” for as many times as residents of Long Beach have stomped on the Blair Field bleachers after his doubles, we have all fallen short of recognizing his true value as a player and a person.
“He wants to get this program to where it belongs,” Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela said.
We have described him as a dedicated player. We have thrown his stats around in newsrooms and on newsstands and play-by-play broadcasts. We’ve thought of him as someone committed to success, without recognizing whose success he is pursuing. We have failed to recognize that Estrada is, at most, only marginally interested in his success.
“The most valuable thing is definitely the time spent with my teammates,” Estrada said.
To watch Estrada play baseball is to understand the meaning of devotion. There is a love in his play that the media – myself included – the students, and the city have never aptly appreciated. He isn’t playing for himself; he is playing for us.
“He plays hard for that Long Beach name across his chest,” Valenzuela said.
We ask players to be this selfless, but we rarely inscribe them into history for doing so. The players cemented into Dirtbags lore such as Jason Giambi, Evan Longoria, Jeff McNeil and Jered Weaver are revered. It’s not because of what kind of teammates they were, but because of their accomplishments, particularly in Major League Baseball.
“I don’t even think about personal highlights,” Estrada said. “I think about that good laugh we had or that one joke that was told in the locker room.”
So if Estrada doesn’t think in terms of personal highlights or statistical accomplishments, why should we? The danger is that we are holding Estrada’s memory hostage to his future athletic accomplishments. The danger is that four years from now, very few of us will remember his name.
Estrada might go on to have a successful MLB career, or he might not. If he does, we will remember him, but for the wrong reasons. If he doesn’t, we will forget the man who has epitomized the ethic of Dirtbags baseball for the past three seasons.
“He’s able to adapt to whatever situation is needed,” Valenzuela said. “Whether he has to be that older leader that’s gonna push guys or the light-hearted guy that needs to loosen up the group as well.”
Valenzuela perfectly captures how Estrada interacts with people, but his words also describe how the Dirtbags have come to play baseball. Being a Dirtbag is no longer just about grinding out at-bats and producing runs with aggressive baserunning.
“Playing baseball at Long Beach means everything to me,” Estrada said. “It goes deeper than just the game of baseball … It’s about my friends and my family. Representing Long Beach and playing at prestigious Blair Field, it’s an honor and I’m blessed to be here.”
Being a Dirtbag has come to mean being someone who plays with a sense of community, the less aggressive equivalent of having a chip on their shoulder. We may not realize it, but looking back on his career, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Estrada has facilitated that transition in the team’s identity.
“When you talk about a Dirtbag and what that means, I think he fulfilled that for sure,” Valenzuela said.
Fulfilling the Dirtbag name, not to mention redefining it, is not something to be taken lightly. It is an act that creates a legacy. If that legacy is to be remembered, however, it’s up to us to recognize it.
“I just want [future fans] to think that guy was a good teammate and he was good to the fans,” Estrada said. “That he was someone to look up to.”