The stars aligned for the Fresno State baseball team on Sunday afternoon as history was honored and then made at Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium. Former Bulldog great Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama’s No. 3 jersey was retired and head coach Mike Batesole earned his 500th career win at Fresno State.
“I love it when Fibber Hirayama and that era of guys are around our program,” Batesole said. “They aren’t just great baseball players, but they’re great people. To have them around our program and in our clubhouse is priceless.”
Hirayama became the 11th Diamond ’Dog to have his number retired and was joined by his former teammates and coaches in the pregame ceremony before the Bulldogs defeated the San Jose State Spartans 16-8.
“The people in Fresno, here, Exeter and [where] I played ball were just so wonderful to me. I’ll never forget that,” Hirayama said.
Joined by 13 former teammates and coaches, Hirayama said they deserved to be standing where he was.
“There’s a lot of people who deserve this a lot more than me,” Hirayama said.
In attendance were Bob Bennett, the winningest coach in Fresno State history with 1,302 wins, and Bobby Jones, a former professional whose 10-year career was spent with the New York Mets and San Diego Padres. Bennett’s and Jones’ numbers have also been retired by Fresno State.
Former teammate and Bulldog baseball hall of famer Jake Abbott said, “This is a tribute that is really well-deserved.”
Abbott, a former Bulldog pitcher, said he always enjoyed seeing a flyball go out to center field because he knew “Fibb” was going to catch it.
“He was a terrific centerfielder,” Abbott said. “He is definitely a Valley legend.”
At 12 years old, Hirayama, an Exeter native, and his family were relocated to Poston, Arizona as part of a World War II-era decree that relocated thousands of Japanese-American families to internment camps. It was there that “Fibber” played organized baseball as part of the camp’s 32-team league.
Hirayama played football and baseball for the Bulldogs from 1950-52. At 5-foot-3 and 140 pounds, Hirayama played halfback on the football team, but his record-breaking legacy at Fresno State was solidified on the diamond.
Now 87, Hirayama was on former coach Pete Beiden’s 1951 Bulldog team that went 36-4, the winningest team in program history. Hirayama etched 36 stolen bases that season, a record that would not be broken until 1987 by future big leaguer Tom Goodwin. He still holds the record for most bases stolen in a single game with five in 1951. Despite the still-standing record season, the Bulldogs, led by centerfielder Hirayama, did not see their first NCAA bid until 1952.
Many of the Bulldog legend’s family and friends were in attendance, including his son, Brian.
“It’s a very special day,” Brian said. “It’s really neat to see him be recognized like this. We really appreciate Fresno State doing this for him.”
Brian said that his father’s number being retired may have something to do with Batesole getting his 500th win.
“Maybe my dad is a good luck charm,” Brian said.
Batesole’s 500th win lands him among Fresno State baseball greats, Beiden and Bennett. The trio becomes just the fifth Division I program with three coaches in the 500-win club.
The head coach said that his success can be credited to the good people around him.
“This isn’t just a baseball team,” Batesole said. “This is a program where there are lots of people in just about every area that you’d need help with and they can’t wait to help you. That’s the only way you can do things like that and throw out numbers like that.”
The historical win allowed the Bulldogs (22-21, 11-10 MW) to win the series against Spartans (15-26-1, 8-14-1 MW) in a game that saw 19 hits. Junior infielder Aaron Arruda went 2-4 with a homerun and four RBIs. Senior infielder Jesse Medrano also had a home run and double with two RBIs and scored four runs for the ’Dogs.
Batesole and the Bulldogs hit the road on Wednesday to take on the UC Riverside Highlanders.