Fresno State retires Judge's No. 29: 'Pivotal years of my life'

November 17th, 2023

Before Game 3 of the 2023 World Series on Oct. 30, sat gleaming with pride at Chase Field as MLB presented him with the Roberto Clemente Award -- one of baseball’s most prestigious honors. The achievement reflects a player’s commitment to community excellence in the name of the late Roberto Clemente.

The honor highlighted Judge’s achievements with his All Rise Foundation, a charity focused on giving back to communities in New York and California’s Central Valley, where Judge grew up. At the presentation ahead of Game 3 in Phoenix, he was asked about his roots, prompting an infectious smile.

Long before Judge’s ascent to sports stardom, which led him to win over the Big Apple as the captain of the Yankees, his journey began at Fresno State, located in an agricultural epicenter. The university planted the seed of the person he is today.

This weekend, Judge’s legacy will be cemented in the Fresno State baseball program. The university will hold a special ceremony on Saturday during Fresno State’s football game against New Mexico, and on Sunday afternoon at Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium, Judge’s No. 29 jersey will be retired in front of the fans who watched him from 2010-13 as he rose into one of the college’s greatest baseball players of all time.

“Those three years I spent at Fresno State to mature as a player on the field -- [and] as an individual and a young man off the field -- shaped and prepared me for this next jump into [playing] pro baseball for the New York Yankees,” Judge said after being presented with the Clemente Award.

Born and raised in Linden, Calif., population 2,043, Judge personifies the blue-collar mentality of his hometown and university. The Central Valley communities rally behind their own, as evident by their passion for the Fresno State Bulldogs.

In many ways, Fresno is the antithesis of New York’s dazzling lights. Instead, the city in the heart of California provides a different charm. It has millions of acres of farmland, the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range and Yosemite National Park within reach.

Photo credit: Fresno State Athletics

When Judge returns to Fresno this weekend for his jersey retirement ceremony, a raucous sellout crowd at Valley Children’s Stadium will greet him. His homecoming will honor his All-American career as a Bulldog, where he won two conference championships and became the first Diamond Dog to win a College Home Run Derby.

“Aaron is a worker,” Ryan Overland, Judge’s former coach and current Fresno State head coach, said. “That's kind of what the Valley personifies: hard-working, hard-nosed people that you get what you earn. That's one thing I say the most about Aaron when people ask about him, as the guy outworks people.

“He's worked for where he's gotten. I think that's what a big part of the Valley and being a Bulldog is really about.”

Judge has developed from a late-round selection to a first-round pick. He slugged his way to five All-Star nods, a 2022 MVP Award and the American League single-season home run crown with 62 homers.

His parents, Patty and Wayne, graduated from Fresno State. Aaron was recruited to play football at USC and Notre Dame, but he chose to play baseball at Fresno State under head coach Mike Batesole -- who will have his jersey retired alongside Judge.

“There's so many lessons I learned there,” Judge said. “Either from coach Batesole or from my teammates or from the community that support it so well -- the Red Wave.”

Jordan Luplow, who has played for six different MLB teams, was Judge’s teammate at Fresno State in 2012 and '13. He recalled how scouts drooled over Judge’s raw power during batting practice.

“You can’t hit a ball as far as that guy,” Luplow said jokingly. “You could see the greatness that was about to unfold. The work ethic in the weight room, always doing the extra reps. Trying to keep up with him was just impossible.”

Photo credit: Fresno State Athletics

Judge arrived on campus during a special era for Fresno State Athletics. The baseball program was two years removed from winning the 2008 College World Series. He played with future MLB players Taylor Ward, Austin Wynns and Luplow, while sharing athletic facilities with future NFL players Derek Carr and Davante Adams.

Despite his busy life, Judge continues to make appearances in Fresno during the offseason. He often engages with current players and focuses on getting to know them personally. He wants to be an example to others.

“I think it’s evident that he is somebody that really appreciates where he came from,” Overland said. “His upbringing, not only at Fresno State, but his time in Linden and what his family has done for him, what community members have done, he didn't take that for granted and [he] appreciated that.”

Photo credit: Fresno State Athletics

Judge’s All Rise Foundation not only conducts baseball clinics for youth, but it also places a strong emphasis on cultivating the talents of tomorrow’s leaders. Last year’s gala in New York City raised $1 million for the foundation, with another annual gala slated for January.

The path to philanthropy can be traced back to Judge’s time at Fresno State.

“The memories I made there with a wonderful coaching staff, coach Batesole, Overland … even all the teammates I had there that pushed me and motivated me along the way,” said Judge. “Those are some very pivotal years of my life.”