Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa burst onto the scene at the beginning of September and ignited the team with his aggressive and exciting play in the Nats infield. He got off to a sizzling start at the plate as well, going 9-for-16 with 3 homers and 10 RBI in his first week.
Coaches at Long Beach State saw the raw talent, energy, and passion from Espinosa when he was in his second year of high school.
Former 49ers coach Mike Weathers recruited Espinosa, and current coach Troy Buckley taught him for two and a half seasons.
Buckley remembers how excited Espinosa was to join the “Dirtbags”, as they are affectionaly known, even though he lived closer to another baseball school in the area in Cal-State Fullerton.
“He came to a camp at the end of his sophomore year and he said right then and there, ‘This is where I want to play, Coach’,” Buckley said.
Buckley said first Espinosa arm and then his speed caught the coaches’ eyes.
“Danny is extremely competitive. His arm was probably one of his best tools that stood out.
“Coach Weathers thought he was going to be a really good shortstop, not only at our level, but also down the road.
“One thing that really caught my eye was his run tool improved tremendously. I think he had a bad groin going into his senior year. He wasn’t running really good. All of sudden, the guy is running 4.3s. That is obviously a separator as far as tools are concerned.
Buckley remembers, as you might expect in college, it wasn’t easy for Espinosa at the start.
“He was a little immature at the beginning,” Buckley said. “We like to say there was a little mustard on the hot dog. But by the same token, he was an unbelievable leader and a really good competitor. He did not accept losing ever.”
The Nationals watched Espinosa get out of the blocks in a hurry, crushing an upper deck grand slam in his first week, demonstrating he could hit to all fields from both sides of the plate. Buckley says Espinosa was hitting like that at an early age with the 49ers.
“That was probably one of the tools that people had a question mark coming out of here,” recollected Buckley.
“When you are following behind a Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria and Bobby Crosby, it is hard to follow in those footsteps with those guys. I think he handled it well and created his own niche.”
Buckley said some scouts wondered where Espinosa would fit in and if his bat was strong enough to play every day.
“The question was going to be where was the bat coming from?” Was he going to be able to play shortstop long enough to take some stress off the bat? I know they moved him over to second,” Buckley said.
Buckley feels one of the things that Espinosa has that gives him the potential to be great in the batter’s box is his quick reflexes.
“There are some interesting things that he does that are unique but at the same time he has tremendous hand-eye (coordination). That is one thing that over the course of time that he does very well. He really knows how to find the barrel. That is a really tough thing to teach.”
So where was the “Dirtbags” nickname born?
The 49ers are known affectionately by their die-hard fans as “dirtbags” because, according to Buckley, when former coach Dave Snow got the program going, they only had a poorly maintained baseball diamond on campus.
So the players would walk to the city field and take groundballs and dive into the dirt as they worked out. When they walked back to the school’s field, covered in dirt, Snow would say, “You guys look like a bunch of dirtbags!”
The team went on an 18-game winning streak that year and the name has stuck ever since.
Now the Nationals are pretty happy to have their very own “Dirtbag”, too.
You can hear the complete interview with Buckley on Danny Espinosa Sunday after the Nationals game on “Nats Insider” at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Federal News Radio.