Jay Carballo is a dirt bag.
At least, that's what Carballo's teammates on the Cal State Long Beach baseball team think of the junior shortstop from Glendale.
"When you're a dirt bag, you put your nose in the ball, knock anything down that's hit to you, and if you get hurt, you stay in the game and just tough it out," second baseman Chris Gill says. "Jay definitely has the dirt-bag attitude."
Carballo is not alone.
The Long Beach campus baseball facility underwent season-long repairs, which forced the team to practice on softball fields and Pony League fields that often featured crater-pocked all-dirt infields.
The vagabond existence toughened all of the players and made the 49ers a team full of self-described dirt bags who have been cleaning up on opponents all season.
Last Monday, Long Beach completed a four-game sweep of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. West I Regional at Tucson, Ariz., to advance to the 44th College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Long Beach is seeded seventh in the eight-team double-elimination tournament that begins Friday at Rosenblatt Stadium. Top-seeded Florida State (52-16) plays No. 8 North Carolina (41-16-1) and No. 4 Wichita State (63-15) meets No. 5 Arkansas (50-14) in opening-day play.
Miami (48-16), which is No. 3, meets No. 6 Louisiana State (52-15) Saturday after the game between Long Beach (50-13) and No. 2 Texas (51-17).
"I don't think anyone expected us to have this kind of success this season," Carballo said following Monday's 10-3 victory over Arizona that clinched the regional title. "We played terrible during the fall, but one day, all of a sudden, everything just clicked."
One of the keys to 49ers' good fortune has been the steady play of Carballo, a former standout at St. Francis High and Glendale College who transferred to Long Beach on a football scholarship last fall.
Carballo, a redshirt defensive back last season, has tackled the task of quarterbacking the 49ers' infield, one of the team's biggest strengths.
"There are times when Jay plays with a little bit of that football mentality, but I like that," says Long Beach Coach Dave Snow. "He doesn't say a whole hell of a lot, but he goes out there and gets after it. He's been a real unsung hero in this team's success."
Under Snow, who replaced John Gonsalves as coach last June after four successful seasons at Loyola Marymount, Long Beach has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround from last season's 14-45 campaign.
Snow, in fact, was the principle reason Carballo opted to sign a letter of intent to play football at Long Beach.
"There was no baseball coach at Long Beach during most of the period that I was deciding what I was going to do," Carballo said. "When I found out that Long Beach had named a coach, and I heard 'Dave Snow,' that made my decision."
During the fall, Carballo alternated practicing with the football and baseball teams.
Each morning, Long Beach assistant coach Dave Malpass kept Carballo sharp by hitting him hundreds of ground balls during individual workouts.
"I had always been taught to just catch the ball and throw the runner out," Carballo said. "But when I started working with Dave in the morning, I learned that there are a lot of little things that make it easier.
"He hit me ground balls for hours--I was dying. It was harder than any football practice."
The work, however, apparently paid off.
Carballo, who is batting .260, began the season at third base, but was moved to shortstop when Alberto Guerra broke his leg in the 16th game of the season. Carballo has committed just 10 errors.
"As far as I was concerned, he was our best defensive shortstop from the beginning," Malpass said. "But as a defensive unit, we needed Jay to play third.
"He's tough and competitive and that's the kind of thing that wins."
Excellent pitching also brings victories and Long Beach has plenty in junior left-hander Kyle Abbott (15-2, 2.37 earned-run average) and freshman right-hander Andy Croghan (12-0, 3.25).
Strong pitching, excellent defense and timely hitting were all in evidence as Long Beach began the season by winning its first 18 games.
Long Beach went on to tie Fresno State for a share of its first Big West Conference title and gained its first playoff berth since 1970.
"I never thought I could do this well," Carballo said. "Now I think I can do better--same thing for the team.
"We started the season 18-0. It was like a dream. If we can finish playing the same way, I guess the dream will be complete."