Thursday, May 19, 2011

With Little Hope for the Playoffs, Dirtbags Look to the Future

The beginning of the 2011 baseball season for the Long Beach State Dirtbags was one of callow, hope and uncertainty. The youthfulness of this squad provided both a wealth of talent, and a profusion of concern. The combination of youth and talent had to be harnessed perfectly in order for this to be a successful season. Unfortunately, with the Dirtbags sitting at 8-10 in Big West Conference play and 25-25 overall on the season, they find themselves at great risk of missing the playoffs.
Entrance to Blair Field, Home of the Dirtbags
Photo Courtesy of Devin Ugland

Many could call this season a severe disappointment. The opulent history that comes with playing baseball at Long Beach State University requires a lot more than just skill to succeed. To accomplish what they set out to do every year, the team must encompass skill, maturity and mental toughness throughout the long season. Too many times this season did they lack the latter of the two aforementioned qualities, which lead to their subpar season.
Fortunately for this team, they are very young. They are a team budding with exuberance and excitement, a team that is one step away from pulling together all the qualities of a winning team. Out of the 35 players on the squad, only 3 of them are seniors. One of their best hitters, first baseman Ino Patron is only a freshman. Their best starting pitcher, Andrew Gagnon is a Junior. Their best relief pitcher, Eddie Magallon is just a sophomore.

Despite the less than acceptable record for such a storied program, there has been a lot of good to come out of this season. Junior outfielder Brennan Metzger feels that this team is on the brink of something great, "This team has a ton of talent, we just need to put all the parts together", he said. I believe that coach Troy Buckley's inaugural season was a learning experience, and something he can use to build upon his first good recruiting class.

Some more good elements to come out of this season are the offensive breakouts of some of the Dirtbags young players, especially freshman Ino Patron. Patron is hitting .299 on the season with a team high 3 homeruns, and 24 RBI. Patron is they key cog behind Long Beach State's youth movement. Another offensive star is Junior third baseman Mike Marjama. Like Patron, Marjama is batting .299 with one homerun and 24 RBI. A good omen for these Dirtbags is all of their offensive powerhouses are going to return next season, to give a real run to the post season.

The pitching staff has been extremely up and down this season, but there are a few guys who really stood out throughout the season. Obviously, Andrew Gagnon the staff ace has been pretty solid all season. Gagnon has a 2.83 ERA with 78 strikeouts, but just a 4-8 record due to a lack of run support. A pleasant surprise was the strong performance of freshman reliever Ryan Strufing. Strufing made 15 appearances on the season leading to a record of 3-2. Sophomore reliever Eddie Magallon led the team with 22 appearances and has a respectable 3.66 ERA with a record of 2-1 and nine saves. Although Magallon's numbers are solid, he expects much more out of himself and fellow members of the pitching staff, "we have struggled at some points this season, but there are a lot of good things that we can carry over into next year", he said. Look for the Dirtbags pitching staff to come back in 2012 with a vengeance, they have their best starters and relievers returning who are looking to make amends for what happened this season.

The Long Beach State baseball team may not be heading to the playoffs, it has yet to be decided, but all indications point to them missing the post season, but you couldn't tell because all of the optimism that radiates from their comments. Senior outfielder Matt Hibbert, who saw limited playing time this season, see's a lot of potential with this young group, "We had a tough year, but the guys on this team are hungry, and they will be back next year", he said.

The myth behind the fountain of youth is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries the world has ever seen, but if there is any truth behind it, the Long Beach State Dirtbags must've found it and stolen some water from it. Their abundance of youth is what some coaches dream of, they are able to watch and help these kids go from good baseball players, to great ones. Their lives are molded right before our eyes, and even if they don't go on to play professional baseball, they go on to do great things in a field other than the baseball diamond.

I have two more years at Cal State Long Beach myself, and I look forward to watching these guys grow into the great potential they possess. I wish nothing but the best for this group of guys.

Player Spotlight: Freshman pitcher Ryan Strufing

Freshman pitcher Ryan Strufing
Photo Coutesy of LBSU Athletics
Ryan Strufing is a long way from home. Graduate of Niwot high school in a small town in Colorado conveniently named Niwot. A "suburb" if you will outside of Boulder, Niwot has a population of just under 5,000 people. Strufing used his stellar pitching abilities to move west, to the glitz and glamour of Southern California. Strufing is one of three players who is not a California native, but home sickness is not a problem.

Usually freshman have a tough time adjusting to the college life, especially if they have the weight of classes as well as the weight of a baseball season on their shoulders, but Strufing has handed it with the poise of a seasoned veteran. His numbers aren't spectacular, 3-2 with a 5.24 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 44.2 innings pitched, but Strufing has proven that he is a future star for this Dirtbag squad with his tenacity and savvy on the mound

Big West Standings and Statistics