July 23, 2016
On July 23rd at high noon the Joliet Dirtbags took on the Beecher Muskies in a doubleheader out at Joliet Catholic Academy’s beautiful Gillespie Field. WillCountyBaseball.org spent the afternoon talking “dirtbag” baseball.
You knew Game 1 was on. By the top of the 2nd the Dirtbag bench burnt the home plate umpire’s short fuse after an extremely questionable call. The man in blue made the following declaration:
“Next time I hear a word I’m tossing the first guy I see.”
“You can’t do that.”
A Google search of “dirtbag baseball” produces a direct hit on Long Beach State University. Like everything in baseball the nickname “dirtbag” has a long history.
The Long Beach St. 49ers were 14-45 in 1988. In 1989 new Head Coach Dave Snow and his assistant Dave Malpass “found themselves faced with the long task of raising the talent level on the roster with very little time — and after most top prospects had signed elsewhere.”
The late scramble, Snow jokes, “probably took 10 years off my coaching life,” but they put together a group of transfers, junior college players and high school players — what Snow calls “a vagabond group” — and then opened everything up for competition. Malpass says they specifically went looking for hard-nosed guys with something to prove.
A university maintenance project went horribly wrong for the 49ers’ baseball field. Malpass was forced to drill his infielders on a local Pony League diamond.
“I just came up with this name, Dirtbag Field,” said Malpass. “‘We’re going to Dirtbag Field.'”
Quickly, the players at Whaley Park developed a culture all their own, diving around, kicking up dust, getting smashed in the face by bad hops and wicked liners and coming back for more. Soon, the guys at Dirtbag Field were Dirtbags.
And the nickname for the Long Beach St. Baseball program was specifically and officially changed to Dirtbags.
Anyone who was well coached beyond the age of 13 remembers being a dirtbag at some point.
The Joliet Dirtbags’ nickname is described on their website:
The Dirtbags take pride in their name as it always draw a snicker from new fans, but the Dirtbags were assembled to take the mentality of their General Manager Mike Sisti and Head Coach Kevin Campbell. They were middle of the road collegiate players who would leave their heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears on the baseball field – and more so – do whatever it takes to win a baseball game. Team comes first and a win will come by any means necessary.
Kevin Campbell is groundskeeper, head coach, and accountant for the Dirtbags. Campbell talked about playing baseball in the Chicago Suburban Baseball League:
WillCountyBaseball.org: It’s 90 degrees on a hot summer July day.
What keeps bringing you out here?
Kevin Campbell: “Competitiveness.”
WCB.org: So you still want to win?
Kevin Campbell: “Yeah, when I played for this team…I played for the Dirtbags when it was the Steel City Aces, the Joliet Blue Jays, all that…always getting looked down upon. CSBL – kind of like we were just nothing.
“Just competitiveness. And I like being around these guys. This is a family atmosphere. That’s what we’ve created.”
Voices of Dirtbags
A quick walk through the Dirtbag crowd reveals, like all baseball crowds, a really interesting and cool group of people spending a Saturday watching baseball. Listen to all these people talk so affectionately about how the game keeps bringing them out to the ballpark.
Olivia Hogan and friend:
WCB.org: Why are you out here?
Olivia: “My boyfriend coaches the Dirtbags.”
Joliet Dirtbags’ alumni Charlie Rudolph and Zach Bartow talked about playing Dirtbag baseball and college ball in the shadow of Gordie Gillespie at the University of St. Francis.
WCB.org: Now what’s going on today?
Charlie Rudolph: “Kevin Campbell brought us out here for a reunion. So we figured we’d come out cookout and watch the team. See how they’re doing this year.”
Current three-year Dirtbags players Tommy Hayes and Bryan Polak talk about playing serious high school, college, and summer baseball.
WCB.org: What’s your favorite part of playing baseball – ever?
Tommy Hayes: “I would definitely say the summer leagues…I love summer leagues. Everyone just seems to gel and have a good time. And that’s when they play their best baseball.”
Bryan Polak: “My favorite part of baseball would definitely be building relationships with guys throughout the years.”
Chuck Schultz is the father of current Dirtbags outfielder Bailey Schultz. He is also a custom bat maker. The Chicago Suburban Baseball League is a wooden bat league. Chuck talked about serious amateur baseball and the quality of BBCOR versus wood bats.
WCB.org: I always see groups of guys like you out at games.
Chuck Schultz: “I make wood bats. So a lot of these guys are using our bats. I make custom bats. It’s called BAS Bat Company. We use maple, ash, and a little bit of birch. I try to help these guys out.”
You never know who you’re going to meet out at the ballpark on a 95 degree Saturday afternoon in July.
Like any local rivalry the Joliet Dirtbags – Beecher Muskies series never seems to end. The Dirtbags swept the July 23rd doubleheader. They took Game 1 in a 4-3 eight inning affair and Game 2 7-4. They were destined to meet again in the National Amateur Baseball Federation Regional Finals.
And, sure enough, the Dirtbags and Muskies sqaured off to play two at Kankakee Community College a week later on July 31. The Dirtbags took Game 1 and were poised to advance to the NABF World Series in Battle Creek. Game 2 was an epic 17 inning affair that saw the Muskies pull it out and advance.
Earlier Sunday, there was another game – on a different level – that also deserves recognition as a classic.
The Joliet Dirtbags entered the championship finals of the NABF Regional at Kankakee Community College as the one-loss team in the double-elimination tournament. The Beecher Muskies were unbeaten.
Joliet did what it had to do in Game 1, scoring five times in the third inning and making it stand up in a 7-4 victory. The winner-take-all Game 2 followed immediately, but it refused to end.
When you ask Dirtbags, “What the hell are you doing out here on a 95 degree Saturday in July?,” you always get an answer. Everybody out at Gillespie Field on that gorgeous summer day loves baseball. And the Dirtbags are going to try every way possible to grind out another win.
on Twitter @Joliet_Dirtbags