The former Long Beach State pitcher, Mike Gallo, considered by those close to the school’s baseball program as the quintessential Dirtbag with his fierce spirit, his ebullient personality and his rags-to-riches saga, is reminiscing about that blessed June day back in 2003 when he was called up for the first time by the Houston Astros. “It was absolutely surreal to me,” says Gallo, who will be the keynote speaker next Thursday evening at the Dirtbags Leadoff Dinner at The Grand Long Beach Event Center. “Here I am a kid from Long Beach who was a first base-outfielder in my senior season at Millikan High and pitched only a few innings, and I suddenly find myself in the same clubhouse with people like Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. “And it’s still a surreal experience for me when a guy like Roger Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of our sport, comes up and says to me after I’ve relieved him, ‘Good job, Rooster’ (Gallo’s nickname). Or a guy like Andy Pettitte gives counsel to me on the art of pitching. Or when our manager, Phil Garner, says to me after the World Series, ‘Mike, you grew up this year.” “You never know for sure what will happen in this game, but I’ll be going to spring training in mid February this time with a lot of confidence. This time I feel pretty secure that I’ll be with the Astros for the entire season.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card Mike Gallo is smiling, and this seems a permanent part of his outgoing persona that made him one of the most popular players ever to wear a Long Beach State baseball uniform, as well, of course, as his 16-6 three-season record that included a sterling 10-3 performance in 1999 that earned him Big West Pitcher of the Year honors. He is seated with his attractive wife of four years, Kristin, whom he met in a speech class at Long Beach State, in a booth at Phil Trani’s on a recent evening, oozing optimism, spreading goodwill, evincing a joyful image of an unspoiled professional jock who appreciates his station. “Oh, I’m thankful for what’s happened in my life,” says the goateed Gallo, one of those weird individuals who has a full head of hair, yet, curiously, shaves it. “Oh, there have been some hardships along the way, but everyone goes through hardships. I’m just fortunate to have a great, devoted wife who has stuck with me through the tough times. “There were a lot of guys rated higher than me in the 1999 draft, and I was selected in the fifth round, the 173rd player picked. But I have two years and twenty days in the majors, and I’ll be eligible for arbitration if I get in another season.” One of Mike Gallo’s compelling attributes is that he throws left handed, and such specimens are valuable commodities, especially if they’re employed as relievers and display a facility for being able to retire left-handed batters. He certainly did so during the 2005 post-season, as he didn’t yield a run against the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. “I come in, face a batter or two, and that’s it,” says Gallo. “I made two appearances in the World Series, got A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Crede the first time and then got Pierzynski the next time.” Still, Mike Gallo admits he yearns to do what he did at Long Beach State when the then Dirtbag coach, Dave Snow, used him in a starting role. “I’d still like to get a chance to start, but I don’t really have a say in the matter,” he says. “And I’m certainly not complaining. I know left-handed relievers can stay around for a long time. Look at guys like John Franco and Steve Kline. I’ll do what they want me to do. But I still think I could be a good starting pitcher.” Mike Gallo certainly was an extraordinary one at Long Beach State, and he still recalls with fondness the glad feeling he felt that 1998 spring afternoon in Stanford when his team beat Alabama to qualify for the College World Series. “I remember lying on the diamond, looking up at the sky and just being overcome by emotion,” he says. “No doubt the three years I was a Dirtbag prepared me well for becoming a professional player. “I know I’m going to get very emotional when I give that speech at the Dirtbag banquet next week. I’ll talk about all the fun I had, but I’ll also talk about how I was able to overcome some hardships in my life. I’m sure I’ll wind up crying.” While some players get to the major leagues quickly and wind up with lucrative, long-term contracts, Gallo’s arc has been uneven, as he has bounced around the minors in places like Auburn, N.Y., Battle Creek, Mich., Lexington, Ky., Red Rock Tex., and New Orleans before that first call up three years ago when he worked in 30 games and had a 3.00 ERA. He appeared in 69 games with the Astros in 2004, but was back in Red Rock at the beginning of last season before being summoned by the Houston on July 1. He would appear in 36 games and would yield just six runs in 20 1/3 innings for a 2.66 ERA. “I think the Astros now believe in me,” says Gallo, who has a 3-1 record with the Astros. Mike Gallo is a 1995 Millikan High graduate, and played on a Dan Peters team that featured such other standouts as Nick Bierbrodt, Matt Williams and Geoff Watts. He still stays in contact with many of his high school pals he attended the pre-marriage bachelor party a while back of Watts, now a Joe Jost bartender, in Las Vegas and will continue to live in the east Long Beach area he grew up in, as he and his wife Thursday moved into a home they recently purchased. “Used my World Series money as a down payment,” says Gallo, who split the $120,000 share with the gentleman he replaced at mid-season, John Franco. Being of Italian heritage as well as Irish and Polish Gallo has accepted an invitation to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic in March. “Should be a lot of fun,” says Gallo. “Life can be so wonderful. Here I am a guy from east Long Beach who never even pitched that much in high school, and now I’m pitching in the major leagues and soon might be pitching for Italy. Who can figure life?” Tickets for the Dirtbag Leadoff Dinner next Thursday night are priced at $75 and reservations can be made by calling (562) 985-4662. The event will be held at The Grand Long Beach Event Center at 4101 East Willow. Cocktails will be served at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!