The Long Beach baseball program has been known by many names over the years. The names have ranged from the formal such as California State University Long Beach, Long Beach State, Cal State Long Beach; to the more informal that include "the Beach", 49ers, Shortstop U, and the LBC. Since 1989 however, no name has been more popular than simply … the "Dirtbags."
The school’s published nickname is the 49ers, and visitors will spot the name here and there, but the gift shops, the fans, and the stadium all refer to team as "Dirtbags." While not typically a flattering term, the name was coined during one of the programs largest runs at success.
The year was 1989, and Dave Snow had just finished a successful coaching stint with the Loyola Marymount Lions, when he took the reins at Long Beach State, who had just finished a season with a winning percentage less than .250. The team did not even have a permanent home, splitting games between the Long Beach City College, Cerritos College, and the soon to be permanent fixture of Blair Field. The team’s infield coach often took a select group of players to a local Pony League field where the infield lacked any natural grass. When the players returned from these practices, they would be covered in dirt and teased by the players who practiced on the more traditional grass infield.
Despite their questionable facilities, the team experienced an unbelievable start to the season, winning their first 18 games. The team’s winning percentage more than tripled to .769 during the 1989 season. After winning the conference title, the team became a fan favorite as the team’s play resembled the term Dirtbags to the fullest.
The permanent home of the Dirtbags today is Blair Field. The Field is named after Frank Blair, who was the editor of the Long Beach Press Telegram newspaper for 32 years.
It was not always the home for Long Beach baseball as the team did not make it a permanent home until 1993. The stadium opened in April of 1958 in Recreation Park after a construction cost of $500,000. Before long, it would see use from MLB ball clubs such as the Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Angels.
In 1992, a $1.5 million renovation provided new seating, lights, and most importantly a new drainage system that brought the field to professional baseball standards. Finally, a renovation in 1999 added nearly 800 box seats and a new scoreboard.
To date, the team has logged 17 NCAA tournament appearances, 11 conference championships, and four College World Series appearances to go with its many MLB stars including Jered Weaver, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki, and Jason Giambi. Though a smaller capacity of approximately 3,300 fans, it has been recognized by Baseball America as being one of the 15 best collegiate ballparks in the country.
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Concessions at Blair Field are all concentrated close to one another behind the grandstand. With all of the positive accolades surrounding the ballpark, I did expect a bit more, but was pleased overall with the selection.
The standard items included the hot dog ($4.50), chili dog ($5), slider dogs ($5.75), nachos ($4 or $4.50 with chili), soft pretzel ($3 or $3.50 with cheese), and a variety of ice cream and candy that ran from $3 to $5.
They did offer several combo deals, which surprisingly is not commonplace in most ballparks. The combo choices included a Nathan's hot dog or nachos and large soda ($7.75) or large popcorn with a large soda ($6.75).
A temporary Domino's Pizza was on hand, offering (obviously) pizza ($3.75 for cheese or pepperoni), a garden salad ($7), parmesan bread bites ($5), wings ($6 for six), or peanuts ($4). Beverage options here included bottled 20 oz soda ($3), bottled water ($2), bottled beer ($6.50), red or white wine ($5).
Across from the Domino's stand was a large draft beer stand, pouring Coors and other select brands for $7.50. Other beverage options in the stadium included soda ($2.50 medium, $3.50 large), Powerade ($3), Red Bull ($4), or "Go Beach" water ($2). A popular touch on a chilly evening is the Starbucks regular coffee, iced coffee, Tazo tea, or hot chocolate ($3.50).
Fans in search of desserts can purchase funnel cake ($5 or $6 with strawberries and whipped cream) or kettle corn ($4 small or $6 large).
Of all of the Southern California baseball venues, this was one that I was more eager for as it seems to be one of the more popular programs. I definitely felt some excitement/anticipation as the Dirtbags took the field with the players images on the scoreboard stating the programs accolades, such as the four College World Series appearances.
As it did have the feel of a minor-league ballpark, some of the traditional minor league promotions came with it including "Dirtbags trivia," the "steal a base, steal a burrito" promotion and my favorite, the bobblehead challenge.
Ultimately, the reputation of the program shows through any cheesy promotions and as the contest carried on, I began to appreciate the atmosphere more and more. There would be a rousing applause upon a great play and the veteran fans certainly knew how to get the most sound out of the bleachers when they were thrilled with what they saw on the field.
With Long Beach being just south of Los Angeles, there is no shortness of things to do in the area. For first time visitors, the necessary itinerary includes a trip to the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Queen Mary (large ocean vessel), Rainbow Harbor, and even the unique Walter Pyramid, home of the Long Beach State basketball team.
As far as local eateries, the stadium is not far from the bustling downtown where there seems to be something for everyone. Popular areas include Rainbow Harbor and the Belmont Shore, which are both filled with bars and eateries. Some of the more popular spots include Legends Sports Bar and Restaurant (which has one of the largest projection-screen TVs that I have ever seen), Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ, Open Sesame and George's Greek Café.
There is little doubt that the Dirtbags fans are some of the best in college baseball, as the team is an attendance leader in not only the Big West, but in all of college baseball.
It seemed that every time I passed by the souvenir shop, there were several fans picking through the wide assortment of Dirtbag apparel. While in many circles, the term "Dirtbag" may have a negative connotation, the players and fans embrace the nickname as a badge of honor and wear it proud.
The fans were certainly more vocal than I've become accustomed to at baseball games. There were bouts with the umpires, shouting matches with the opposing fans, and certainly a fair share of support for the home team. Even though the Dirtbags struggled with the bat early, the fans kept offering their encouragement.
Lastly, I have to give credit to a select group of fans who got their lawn chairs and set up on the sidewalk that sits above the left field home run fence. While it's a shame that they are not contributing to the program, you have to credit them for creativity.
I found the stadium to be rather easily accessible from the 405 freeway and the notable California Route 1 is not far away either.
Parking is free in Recreation Park and with many games in the evening hours, a spot should not be difficult to come by. Upon arrival, I was thrilled to find a spot just footsteps from the front door, but quickly grew anxious as a number of foul balls flew over the grandstand into that vicinity.
The restrooms were probably the most noticeable age in the venue. There is both a Men's and Women's restroom on each side of the grandstand, which is definitely sufficient. The restrooms seemed to accommodate up to five fans at a time, but I did notice the mirrors in the Men's rooms covered in scratches and an overall lack of comfort with the restrooms.
With free parking for a top Division I program before fans even get to the front gate, Long Beach State starts off as quite the value.
The prices at the ticket office are rather impressive as well. Super box seats satisfy the elite for $25, while all other box seats go for $12.
Most of the seating seems to go to the general admission section where adults pay $9 and seniors/ youth/faculty/staff/alumni all get in for $7. A great idea that both inspires Dirtbag jersey purchases and markets the team is offering youth tickets at $5 when the child wears a Dirtbag jersey.
The chance to experience one of the best collegiate ballparks and one of the best programs in the country is certainly a worthwhile value. Heck, for less than $10, fans could see the next Troy Tulowitzki.
The team nickname certainly deserves to kick it off for the extras as the Dirtbags are easily a unique name to collegiate sports. When fans enter the stadium, they can spot a sign to their right that provides some more context of the nickname from former players.
I've transposed some of the quotes below:
"It's a badge of honor. It means you play hard all of the time."
-Steve Traschel, Pitcher
"Being a Dirtbag means giving 100 percent in everything you do... going all-out on every play, and always putting the team before yourself."
-Bobby Crosby, Shortstop
"We're just players who like to get dirty and play hard. We'll always battle every inning, every at bat - it's just a hard-nosed way to play ball."
-Jeremy Reed, Outfielder
Some other extras include the Bob Lemon Memorial just outside of the gates; there's something about a message that reads,"This was his field of dreams" that gets to baseball fans. Inside the gates, in front of the primary concession stand is the Long Beach Baseball Hall of Fame. Notable names, including San Diego Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn are found here. The aforementioned Dirtbag definition sign and another sign that lists all of the former Long Beach Players to appear in the Major Leagues will also be worth a look. On the outfield wall, fans can spot the retired numbers of Dave Snow (18) and former manager John Gonsalves (25).
On the concourse on the first base side, there is a sizable area of grass that allow children some space to play catch during the game. While it was disappointing that they were missing the great game on the actual ball field, it was nice to see them enjoying the game of baseball in their own way.
The venue also has its touch of Hollywood, being so close to the famous filming location. Pictures such as Mr. Baseball, Odd Couple II, Michael Jordan's Space Jam, and the recent Moneyball all had parts filmed at Blair Field.
Lastly, something I was not aware of but learned via the PA system is the interestingly named "Black and Blue" rivalry. This is an annual rivalry with another notable program, a neighbor to the south in the UC Irvine Anteaters.
The Dirtbags certainly lived up to the hype of being one of the top 25 programs of the nation. Sure, I do see some potential improvements in the restrooms, the concessions, and maybe an added touch to the atmosphere, but I did find it to be one of my more enjoyable stops for college baseball.
Walking the stadium and seeing banner after banner of players who are now superstars in the MLB certainly left me feeling like I was in good company.
Follow Drew's Travels through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew.
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