Everyone wanted to forget the 2019 Long Beach State Dirtbags season as soon as it was over. The failed campaign started with a 10-game losing streak — the worst start in program history — and included coach Troy Buckley’s firing after a physical altercation with an assistant.
It was also the first thing new Dirtbags coach Eric Valenzuela had to address when he took the job last June.
“I respect everybody who has been here before, but we’re never going to talk about the past,” Valenzuela said. “This is Long Beach State, man. You’re one of the best players in the country if you put this uniform on, so it’s not the talent. We just have a positive environment and we work hard.”
The positive vibes carried over onto the field as the Dirtbags came back looking like an elite national program in 2020 under Valenzuela. They opened the season with a walk-off win over Cal, and then proceeded to win all four of its weekend series against ACC and SEC competition.
The 7-2 start is the best since 2008 when the Dirtbags won the Big West Conference title and hosted an NCAA Regional. After taking two of three games off visiting No. 6 Mississippi State in late February, the Dirtbags moved up as high as No. 12 in the national rankings before the season was cut short. That is the best ranking for LBSU since Jered Weaver won the Golden Spikes award.
One of the biggest reasons for the immediate turnaround was a new approach at the plate. That offensive system is a complex one taught by associate head coach Bryan Peters, and the keys are adjustments on a player-by-player basis.
“There’s never a swing without a purpose in our program,” Peters said. “We put in all of that stuff in the fall. Once they really get it, individually and as a team, we have a simplified approach. We give them an intense, hyper-focus so they know exactly what their job is and what they want to get done.”
“It was a whole new system thrown at us and we all had to adapt,” said 6’1” 225-pound center fielder Calvin Estrada, who led off for the Dirtbags. “It’s not so much my swing, per say, but more how I’m trying to manipulate the baseball.”
The improved offense and impressive results at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field created an exciting atmosphere for the loyal Dirtbags fans.
“The joy is back, we’re having fun and we’re rolling,” Estrada said. “Coach kind of told us ‘It’s your season, so we’re going to let you guys do what you do,’ and this is just how it’s showing up on the field… It feels like the Dirtbags are back. Everyone is happy. Everyone is smiling. Hopefully we keep moving in the right direction. I feel like everything has changed so there’s no looking back at last year at all.”
LBSU will return the majority of its roster in 2021.