Host to the 1976 ISC World Tournament, Home of the Long Beach State Dirtbags
Visiting Blair Field in Long Beach last night for the game between the host Long Beach Dirtbags and the University of Texas was a bit of a homecoming for me. I hadn’t been to Blair Field in some time, but the old-time feel of the place provided a familiar welcome. The NCAA Regional for college baseball was too much to resist.
Long Beach earned the #1 seed in this year’s NCAA Regional, competing in a foursome that included the University of Texas (with two of Roger Clemen’s sons, Kacy and Kody), San Diego State and UCLA, fighting for a spot in the Super Regional, and to vie for one of 8 spots in the NCAA College World Series in Omaha Nebraska.
Blair Field opened in 1956, and has been the home for a variety of baseball in the City of Long Beach, California.. These days it’s best known as the home of the Long Beach State baseball team, which has produced quite a number of major league baseball players including a couple of current numbers of the Toronto Blue Jays, Troy Tulowitzki and Marco Estrada, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays and Jered Weaver, former Angel, now San Diego Padre.
Blair Field was built from a scaled down version of the blue prints from Milwaukee’s old County Stadium. It is located at 10th and Park Avenue in tree filled Recreation Park in Long Beach, across the street from Joe Rodgers softball field, former home of the legendary 10-time world champion Long Beach Nitehawks. Also across the street is Wilson High School, where former major leaguers Bobby Grich and Jeff Burroughs played their high school ball.
As a young boy, my mother used to drop my brothers and I off to watch American Legion games, the summer circuit for local high school players. Later, I attended to watch my brothers play for Millikan High School, including a relief appearance by my brother Rick, a left handed pitcher, brought in to face the Great Tony Gwynn with the bases loaded. (I’ll not mention the result, other than to say that Rick has plenty of company amongst major-league baseball pitchers in their ability to get Tony Gwynn out :-).
Later that same year, 1976, the ISC brought the World Tournament to Long Beach, reconfiguring Blair Field and turning it into a fastpitch field for two weeks. Blair Field has stadium style seating, and resembles some of the older minor league ballparks of today. It holds about 3,000 people and was more suitable for hosting the ISC World Tournment, than Joe Rodgers (softball) field even though they had to skin the pitchers mound and install portable fencing. Loser’s bracket games were relegated to the all dirt field at Joe Rodgers. Sadly, despite their notoriety as the best softball team of their day, the Long Beach Nitehawks’ home field at Joe Rodgers did not get near the care or attention devoted to Blair Field.
It was Blair Field that brought out the local fans to enjoy the premier event in men’s fastpitch. Darwin Tolzin was the star of the ’76 ISC World Tournament, pitching All American Bar of St. Paul Minnesota to the ISC title, having just relocated there after pitching for the local Lakewood California Jets the prior year. A decision by the City of Long Beach (owner of Blair Field) to ban beer sales was unpopular, though cooler and nearby beer sales were said to have gone through the roof. In the end, the tournament was a success, though the last time the event would be hosted in Long Beach. Click here to read Bob Otto’s great recap of that 1976 ISC World Tournament at Blair Field.
Long Beach State’s baseball team continued to play their home games at Blair Field, though sometimes relegated to playing games at a local junior college or elsewhere, since Blair Field is owned by the city of Long Beach and shared by a number of users. It was not until 1989 when the program raised its national profile as a baseball powerhouse under that coach Dave Snow:
When Dave Snow arrived at Long Beach in 1989, after a successful 4-year run at Loyola Marymount where he led the Lions to 2 WCC titles and their first ever CWS appearance, he found himself inheriting a program in disarray. The 49ers had compiled a horrific 14–45 record the year before, and the roster consisted almost entirely of new players. What’s more, the 49ers were still being forced to play without the benefit a true home field (instead splitting games between Long Beach City College, Cerritos College, and Blair Field). Undaunted, Snow set to work rebuilding the program, and wound up engineering one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NCAA history.
The lack of a field ended up being a crucial ingredient in the creation of the team’s iconic nickname. Over the course of the season, infield coach Dave Malpass would routinely take his players to a local (all-dirt) Pony League field for practices, while the rest of the team stayed at the on-campus practice field. When the infielders rejoined the team, their uniforms caked with dirt, the other coaches would tease Malpass about his group of “Dirtbags.”
Long Beach State exploded onto the college baseball scene in 1989, winning their first 18 games right out of the starting gate. Just one year removed from their embarrassing 14-45 flop of a season, the reborn 49ers performed an almost unbelievable turnaround by posting an impressive 50-15 overall record and winning their first conference title in two decades. In their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance, the “Dirtbags” quickly became fan favorites for their gritty and spirited character as they fought their way to a Regional victory and reached the College World Series, another school first. Though they failed to win a game in the Series, the Dirtbags’ improbable run earned Snow NCAA Coach of the Year honors. Long Beach State Dirtbags, Wikipedia
The “Dirtbag” name, and team culture stuck, with the team known for it’s scrappy, dirty-uniform and “Never Quit” attitude. A bit more about the “Dirtbag” name, courtesy of ESPN.
Long Beach has been to the College World Series four times, in 1989, 1991, 1993 and 1998. In the new century, Long Beach State has won the highly competitive Big West Conference three times, in 2003, 2008 and this year, 2017, giving them 12 conference titles in all. (No small feat, considering that perennial powerhouse Cal State Fullerton is in the conference).
The Long Beach Dirtbags opened the Regional Friday night with a convincing 6-0 win over San Diego State. UCLA fell to Texas in their opener, then dropped a 3-2 13 inning game against San Diego State on Saturday afternoon and was eliminated. That put Long Beach and Texas in the unbeaten marquee game Saturday night, before a sell-out crowd.
The game provided fans with more than their money’s worth, stretching from the 7 pm start time ’til close to midnight, with a see-saw battle that finished regulation tied at 3. Long Beach came within inches of winning the game in extra innings, with a near-inside the parker, but Texas cut down the runner at the plate and went on to win in the 12th, 5-3.
The hill for Long Beach to advance to the College World Series is now a steep one, but the Dirtbags lived to play another day, against San Diego Sunday at 1pm PDT, for a chance for a rematch or two with Texas should they win.
Dodger Stadium opened in 1962 and is now the third oldest ballpark in use in Major League Baseball. Blair Field’s history stretches even further back, and provides hallowed ground for the baseball players and fans alike. Blair is much improved these days, with renovations funded by former players Jered Weaver (bullpen) and Troy Tulowitski, who put up $1 Million for improvements to park. The TV trailer and satelite dish of ESPN last night told fans that their team had arrived, and worthy of the national spotlight.
As the game wound down, late last night, Blair Field was still packed with fans, many of them families with young children, garbed in Long Beach State gear. Some lucky ones will per chance play a high school game at Blair, or perhaps become a Dirtbag themselves, remembering Saturday night’s game, where they watched in awe on the night The Show came to Long Beach.
Editor’s postcript: Sunday afternoon’s game vs. San Diego State is on internet radio, via KBeach.
Editor’s postscript 2: Long Beach State defeated San Diego State on Sunday, 7-4, and will get a rematch against Texas tonight at 7pm PDT.
Editor’s postscript 3: Long Beach State defeated the Texas Longhorns on Sunday night, 4-3, behind the hitting of Jarren Duran, who delivered 2-out RBI hits in the 6th and (game winner) in the 8th. The Dirtbags will play Texas for the third time in as many days, on Monday night at 8pm, with the winner of the rubber match advancing to the Super Regional and a chance to vie for one of 8 spots in the College World Series at Omaha, NE. The win over Texas on Sunday was the fortieth of the season for the Big West Conference Champions. Hope to see Long Beach baseball fans turn out tonight for one of the biggest games in Blair Field history. Look for me behind the Dirtbags dugout. If you can’t make it, you can listen to the call of the game on KBeach radio, with the Voice of the Dirtbags, Jamie Holloway. Or come to Blair Field and listen to the game. 2pm update: Looks like the online tickets are sold out.
One more photo. This one gives you the feel of being of being there.