Baseball, Men's Sports

Dirtbags head coach looks to not let players ‘lose appreciation of the opportunity’

Baseball is naturally a game of failure. If players fail 70% of the time at the plate, they’re still a .300 hitter, which can turn into million dollar salaries in Major League Baseball. 

Long Beach State Dirtbags’ new head coach Eric Valenzuela is no stranger to overcoming failure. 

“As a kid my dad didn’t allow me to make excuses,” Valenzuela said. “When you are a Dirtbag, you are expected to do great things and get to the postseason. The pressure can really flood the team’s brain.” 

Valenzuela’s focus as the new head coach isn’t currently set on winning, but rather on shaping student athletes and creating a hard-working culture within the clubhouse. Being on time, showing up to class and treating people with respect is just as important as winning to Valenzuela.

“You are in the Big West, you have to really take care of the culture from within,” Valenzuela said. “As soon as these guys start to lose appreciation of the opportunity that is Dirtbag baseball, they will be cut.”

The Dirtbags welcomed 12 new recruits to the team this year. The team hopes to turn around its disappointing 2019 season after going 14-41 (8-16 Big West).

For Devereaux Harrison, a first-year player from Vacaville, California, joining the Dirtbags was an easy choice. 

“I came on a visit and fell in love with the campus and the city of Long Beach,” Harrsion said.

“What they do for their players is amazing and the ultimate goal is to get drafted. Long Beach has no problem getting players there.”

While Southern California has many things to draw in prospective athletes, Valenzuela’s mindset makes the Dirtbags the most appealing team.

Isaac Rameriz, a first-year kinesiology major, wanted to make sure he got to experience that culture.

“I was originally going to Saint Mary’s because of coach Valenzuela,” Ramirez said. “When I found out coach was coming to LBSU, I was able to be released from my old school and come over to the Beach. He has so much grit and treats us all like family.”

Valenzuela’s passion wasn’t originally baseball, it was boxing. As a child, he grew up training in the ring with his father, which would later develop a work ethic that would carry into his baseball career.

At eight years old, Valenzuela’s father relocated the family from Duarte to Covina which offered a better educational system and a better baseball league, he said. 

After being named a high school All-American from Bishop Amat Memorial High School, Valenzuela was named the California Sophomore of the Year by Cal-High Sports in 1996. The same year Bishop Amat went on to win the CIF-SS championship.

Sidelined by injury for the majority of the ‘98 season at Arizona State, Valenzuela spent most of the season shadowing the coaching staff. After learning of his injury history, ASU revoked Valenzuela’s scholarship. 

He then transferred to Pepperdine in 1999, where he reunited with his best friend and former high school teammate Dan Haren. Haren went on to become a MLB pitcher. Valenzuela was the captain of Pepperdine’s 2001 team that went 42-18 and won the WCC title. 

After graduating in 2001, Valenzuela wanted to play independent ball and stayed at Pepperdine to work out and condition. That same summer, John Baptista called Valenzuela, and offered him his first collegiate coaching job with the Saint Mary’s College Gaels. Valenzuela worked as the assistant recruiting coordinator, as well as the outfield and third base coach. 

“Working for the Gaels really helped me develop as a coach,” Valenzuela said. “Pitching was everything I knew at the time and I had to learn how to do new things.” 

After coaching the Brewster Whitecaps for one season, a Cape Cod Independent League team, Valenzuela spent six seasons across town at the University of San Diego. Valenzuela helped the Toreros reach the NCAA postseason on three occasions, with the last instance in 2008 when the Toreros visited the Long Beach regional after winning a program high of 44 games. 

In 2009, Tony Gwynn called Valenzuela and asked him, “How can I steal you from USD? I want to make San Diego State a powerhouse.”

“When Tony Gwynn calls seeking you, it’s pretty hard to say no,” Valenzuela said. 

Valenzuela then served four seasons from 2010 to 2014 as the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at San Diego State. He was responsible for bringing in a pair of recruiting classes ranked in the Top 25 by Baseball America. 

In 2014, Valenzuela rejoined the Gaels, where they recorded four consecutive 30-win seasons. He also led Saint Mary’s to its first West Coast Conference title and the program’s first NCAA Regional appearance in 2016.

With a history filled with success, Valenzuela looks to bring the Beach back to prominence on the national stage with internal growth. 

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