Fresno State honored one of its greatest global ambassadors, a man who turned tragedy off the baseball field to triumph on it at home and abroad.
The Bulldogs retired the No. 3 jersey of former catcher Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama before their series finale against Oregon on Monday night at Beiden Field at Bennett Stadium.
It came three days after Hirayama’s 87th birthday and one day removed from the U.S. Day of Remembrance – the 75th anniversary of the executive order that led to the internment of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
That roundup included Hirayama, just a farm boy then from Exeter, and his family.
“I remember my dad being scared,” he said. “I remember that we were in this one little apartment, which had one potbelly stove in it. I can remember the sand storms that used to come through and we couldn’t see the barracks.”
And the trauma of wartime went beyond the barbed wire fences at the Poston, Ariz., War Relocation Center.
Fibber was a part of our greatness. 75 years ago yesterday, our life changed but he never stopped. This number will be retired forever in perpetuity in honor of Hirayama.
Fresno State Director of Athletics Jim Bartko, on the jersey retirement of Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama
“When I went out (of camp), my brother was working in a cabbage plant in Colorado. I went out there and when I got on the train, there was nothing but soldiers and it scared me to death,” Hirayama said. “I couldn’t even talk, which is not like me.”
Hirayama found camaraderie when he returned to the San Joaquin Valley.
“I’ll never forget coming back to Exeter, coming back to school and six of my dear friends were still friends when I got back,” he said. “They took really good care of me because the word ‘Jap’ I heard quite often. You know, ‘Get the Jap back to camp’ or whatever. And my friends, they all stood up for me and I’ll never forget that. They were wonderful.”
3 the jersey number of former Fresno State star Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama, which was retired by the Bulldogs on Monday. Hirayama is the ninth baseball player to have his number retired at Fresno State.
Hirayama went on to be a two-sport star for the Bulldogs, playing running back and catcher. He found more friends and support there from teammates and coaches, including the late Pete Beiden.
“It was fun playing under Pete Beiden. I really enjoyed him. The thing about Pete was he was such a regular person.”
He set school records for steals in a game (five), season (36) and career (71). The first one still stands; the other two were later broken by future major leaguer Tom Goodwin.
Hirayama remembers leading the Bulldogs to their first NCAA Tournament berth as a senior in 1952, but his most cherished memory was being a part of the 1951 team that finished 36-4.
He signed to play with Major League Baseball’s old St. Louis Browns, but his pro career was cut short after he was drafted into the military. Following two years of service, Fibber took his talents to Japan where he was a two-time all-star for the Hiroshima Carp.
Monday’s ceremony – on what Fresno State billed as the “Night to Remember,” a salute to Fresno’s role in Japanese American baseball history – brought it all full circle.
“I don’t think about these bad things anymore because you can only go so far with something like that,” Hirayama said. “But with good memories like tonight – I’ll never forget this. It’s really a thrill.”
Bulldogs split series – Fresno State fell 3-2 to Oregon in Monday’s series finale, settling for a split of a four-game series in which the Bulldogs took the first two.
Scott Silva drove in both runs on a single in the first and double in the third. Oregon broke a 2-2 tie on Jake Bennett’s single in the fifth off right-hander J.J. Santa Cruz after freshman right-hander Davis Moore went the first four, with both runs earned on two hits and three walks. The Bulldogs host UC Riverside in a three-game series beginning Friday.
FRESNO STATE VS. UC RIVERSIDE
- Schedule: 6:05 p.m. Friday; 2:05 p.m. Saturday; 1:05 p.m. Sunday at Beiden Field at Bennett Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 2-2; Highlanders 1-1 (pending Tuesday game vs. UCLA)
- Radio: KFIG (940 AM)