Ahhh, the USA. It has its share of great ballparks, from sea to shining sea. But if there was ever a baseball stadium that caught my imagination, it's Blair Field, located in Long Beach, California. If you ask me, this is the gem of all amateur baseball parks. Established in 1956, it has been the home of some thrilling high school baseball games, American Legion clashes, Connie Mack classics, training for the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Rams (when they were in Los Angeles-good times), and even was used for Olympic training, perhaps as a precursor to the demonstration days of 1984 at the Chavez Ravine that is Dodger Stadium.
But I shed no tears for the Long Beach Armada falling to the Orange County Flyers in Game 5 of the Golden Baseball League South Division Series by the score of 12 runs to 2. Instead, I raise my hands in celebration for this fact alone: in about 5 months' time, Blair Field will return to its rightful owners, the Long Beach State Dirtbags.
The city's TRUE home team.
My university, Long Beach State, became full-time tenants of that facility that seats 3,238, located between Recreation Park and Wilson Classical High School, in 1993. Since the team got their Dirtbag moniker from then-manager Dave Snow watching his young men get their get-ups dusted from practice on their field, Long Beach State has brought the energy to the Blair longer than the Armada and all the other minor-league teams that came and gone combined. Indeed, The Beach's history with Blair goes way back, to April 15, 1958, where the 49ers, coached by Jack McConnell, defeated Joe Hick's Long Beach City College Vikings, 14-6.
Here are five reasons why when it comes to delivering results at Blair Field, it's the Dirtbags, and not the Armada, that are Long Beach's hometown team. Five reason why I stay away from Blair Field when the Armada are playing, and why you should, too.
1. More notable Major League players than the Armada.
Flat-out. It's not even close. You've got blasts from the past in Jason Giambi, Randy Moffitt, Rod Gaspar, Steve Trachsel...to today's stars like Mike Gallo, Bobby Crosby, Evan Longoria, Jered Weaver, and Troy Tulowitzki.
Who do/did the Armada have? Jose Canseco? That's it? I thought he retired!
Oh, that's right. He did. I like to see the stars of tomorrow, not the has-beens/didn't really get theres of today. Advantage Dirtbags.
2. Longevity, Longevity, Longevity.
Long Beach State has had an affinity with Blair Field for over 50 years. They have been in existence since the stadium was dedicated. The Armada haven't lasted a tenth of that as of this posting.
In fact, the Long Beach Rockets, a semi-pro team of the past, have never lasted as long as the Dirtbags, although if you take into consideration they lasted three decades, you have to give them credit for trying.
3. Long Beach is a prep/college sports town.
On the prep side of things: you have you Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits and Wilson Bruins and Millikan Rams and Jordan Panthers, and even the Cabrillo Jaguars to cheer for. (And Lakewood is just up the road!)
Also, pro sports teams don't last very long in Long Beach.
The Long Beach Barracudas/Riptide lasted only two seasons, along with the Breakers (although they did win three titles combined in the old Western Baseball League).
The Long Beach Ice Dogs folded after fourteen years at the Long Beach Arena. But don't worry, hockey fans, Long Beach still has a team...the 49ers compete in the ACHA ( American Collegiate Hockey Association) Division II at Glacial Gardens, just up the road.
And all these teams at both levels have won more hardware than the Armada have ever won, which is a big fat zero. Getting to the GBL Championship Series the first two years does not count. Over their long history with managers like McConnell, Dick Clegg, Bob Wuesthoff, John Gonsalves, Snow and Weathers, the Dirtbags racked up won 11 Big West Conference titles.
11 pieces of hardware. To zero. Not even close. Advantage Dirtbags and Jackrabbits and Bruins and the rest of the amateur lot who play at the Blair.
4. A better value for your buck.
Going to a Long Beach Dirtbag baseball game has the type of charm that the Armada can never equal or surpass.
Besides great baseball from players who are slated to make it big in the majors, where else can you watch the likes of the Huckster, Mr. Joe Ballsinger, emulate Chuck Rio of The Champs and pull off an epic Elvis Presley impersonation between innings?
Where can you watch young boys spin themselves dizzy and hustle on potato sacks as DAVID sunflower seed packages are tossed into the crowd?
Where else can you play bingo and guzzle a cup of beer at the same time while fans bleeding Black and Gold mock the umpire for a questionable call coming their way? Where else can you get all this and more...for only $165 per year?
5. Teams come and teams go, but the Dirtbags will never leave Blair Field.
Obviously. There will be a time when the Armada will leave Long Beach, or fold with the rest of the Golden Baseball League, and another ambitious pro club will try their luck at putting the butts in the seats when Mike Weathers's boys have gone away for the summer...and another one after that...and another one after that.
As for the Dirtbags...they aren't gonna go anywhere.
To paraphrase a German politician's quote on the Berlin Wall, a hundred years will pass, and Long Beach State's Dirtbags will still be out to continue its tradition of entertaining generations of fans, students and alums at Blair Field who search for a beautiful day for, and a beautiful place to watch, a ball game.
When it comes to playing ball, Long Beach State will always, ALWAYS be the International City's hometown team to root for. Even the Armada should know that.
And I'll guarantee you, as they clear their lockers after the trip back from their execution in Fullerton (home to a rival team that the Dirtbags recently shared the conference title with, and a series of legendary proportions in college baseball)...they know it.
Advantage Dirtbags. It's not even close...it's a shutout.