Baseball COVID-19 Long Beach State

Long Beach State Dirtbags Living With Uncertainty

There wasn’t much new information to give, but Long Beach State Dirtbags first-year coach Eric Valenzuela organized a program-wide conference call on Monday afternoon to check in with his players and staff.

“The only thing we can do is continue to communicate with our players and make sure they stay on it academically to be the best students they can be,” Valenzuela said.

The Dirtbags are obviously feeling unfulfilled after their hottest start in years launched them to a No. 12 national ranking. Valenzuela said the season’s cancellation due to COVID-19 has left all of his players stuck in different and unique situations.

The NCAA will rule on eligibility relief next week, and that will influence a lot of decisions about the future, but there’s also Dirtbags players who have the Major League Baseball First-Year Players Draft to consider.

Obviously, it’s impossible to predict what the sports world will look like in June, so Valenzuela is telling his future prospects to stay ready for anything.

“I’ve always told the guys to prepare for the worst,” Valenzuela said. “Nobody really knows where or if you’re going to get drafted. I love all of the area (scouts), but they’re not the ones pulling the trigger, so don’t get your hopes up. Coming back to graduate isn’t the worst thing on earth.”

With scouts unable to travel because of the pandemic, it’s even more difficult for MLB agents and their clients to get a feel for where they might end up in the draft.

Valenzuela said he’s working with each player individually on a plan to stay physically prepared, and he’ll go through his regular end-of-year meetings. However, this year it will be online or via FaceTime.

“We’re just waiting on information,” LBSU pitcher Adam Seminaris said. “I don’t know anything yet. (The draft is) two months away, so there’s a lot of thinking left to do.”

Seminaris looked like one of the best college pitchers in Southern California after posting a 1.23 ERA in three starts. The junior lefty struck out 36 batters in 22 innings, and he became the first pitcher to strike out 14 in a game since Jered Weaver did it in 2004. Weaver won the Golden Spikes Award that season.

After returning to his home in Chino Hills, Seminaris has been hanging out with family and playing video games to pass the time. On Monday before the call with Valenzuela, Seminaris said he hasn’t thrown a baseball since the team returned from the canceled series at Tulsa.

“Selfishly for him this is a good thing,” Valenzuela said of Seminaris getting some rest after good starts against ranked opponents. “Where he finished, and the way he looked, the talk that was going for him… where he left off is good in terms of the draft.”

“That’s the positive out of it,” Seminaris said. “But I’m pretty sure the whole team and everybody in the nation would rather be playing baseball right now, you know what I mean?”

Seminaris added that another year of eligibility at LBSU could factor in him returning to Bohl Diamond at Blair Field next year if the draft doesn’t go well, or doesn’t happen.

“I would love to come back and go to Omaha, but there’s also that Laine Huffman effect in the back of your head,” Seminaris said.

Huffman was selected by the New York Mets in the 25th round of the 2017 draft, but returned to LBSU where a shoulder injury derailed his career.

Redshirt sophomore Leonard Jones is trying not to think about that after just recovering from a thumb injury. The first baseman had returned in a big way with a pair of home runs at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field. He also hit .327 with only four strikeouts in 14 games.

“It’s pretty depressing because I think we could’ve done a lot of great things this year,” Jones said. “I worked so hard to get back out there, and having to stay away from the game this long is awful.”

Jones is staying with this family in Chula Vista where the makeshift batting cage is still in the garage.

“I tape a sheet at the top and just hit off a tee into it,” Jones said. “I used to do this in high school. I’m just trying to get as many swings in as I can.”

Jones said only a great situation in the draft could take him away from LBSU because he likes the new coaching staff so much.

“They changed our lives,” Jones said. “It’s a breath of fresh air, from the energy to the mechanics, and they made us love the game again.”

One of the big changes Valenzuela and his staff brought to the Dirtbags was an aggressive approach at the plate. That started with Calvin Estrada at the top of the lineup, and he said he’s ready to buy the “MLB The Show” video game to cure his need for baseball.

“I’m also used to working out in the gym constantly,” Estrada said. “But now everything is different with more running and body weight like pushups and sit ups.”

Estrada and fellow senior outfielder Aidan Malm are on the bubble when it comes to getting selected in the draft. They both hit around .300 this season with a combined 15 RBIs in 15 games.

“Those guys have power potential and they’re both athletes,” Valenzuela said. “They could get drafted, for sure.”

Estrada had a team-high 10 runs scored and six doubles.

“I feel like I would be okay (in the minor leagues) after the adversity we’ve faced as a team,” Estrada said of moving to the next level. “I would just take it in stride. Long Beach has taught me to work hard and be persistent, and those are two key components in the minor leagues.”

JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.