Judge’s home run record brings pride for those who share his Fresno State, Valley roots

Tony Gutierrez/AP

A former Fresno State baseball player is the American League’s new single-season home run king.

And to some, New York Yankees star Aaron Judge is the legitimate record-holder.

Judge launched his 62nd home run of the season Tuesday against the Texas Rangers to pass Roger Maris for the AL record.

Leading off the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Texas Rangers, Judge sent an 88 mph slider from pitcher Jesus Tinoco over the left field wall at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Judge exchanged hugs upon crossing home plate with enthusiastic Yankees teammates who’d rushed out of the dugout, while the game’s television broadcast on WFAN described the moment as “Judgment Day.”

Judge, who played at Fresno State from 2011-13, hadn’t homered in his previous five games since tying Maris’ record on Sept. 28 vs. the Toronto Blue Jays, which like Tuesday also was accomplished while the Yankees were on the road.

In between the historic home runs, Judge went without a homer during the final three regular-season games at Yankee Stadium.

So when Judge homered Tuesday, his mom couldn’t help but show a sigh of relief amid the rush of joy.

The Texas crowd joined to loudly cheer Judge’s accomplishment.

He also received a standing ovation after Yankees manager Aaron Boone removed Judge from the game shortly after taking right field before the start of the second inning.

And once again, Judge’s ties to Fresno were celebrated by those from the central San Joaquin Valley and others who saw him play while in a Bulldog uniform.

His ties to the Valley were especially recognized with pride by those who’ve been part of the Fresno State baseball program and watched Judge develop since his days at Beiden Field.

It’s quite perplexing to think that Judge’s power ever was in question.

But that was the case during his time at Fresno State.

Despite his size and strength and even winning a college home run derby contest, Judge hit only 18 home runs in three seasons with the Bulldogs.

But Judge later revealed that he never felt comfortable playing with a metal bat then because they were too light and too short for his swing.

“I felt like I was swinging a toothpick,” Judge said then.

His Fresno State coach, Mike Batesole, forecast greatness in 2013 before he was drafted: “The more time he spends focusing on baseball, you could be looking at a .300, 30-homer guy. That’s an all-star, a potential franchise player they’re potentially getting, whichever team takes Judge.”

In the nine years since he left Fresno State early after becoming the No. 32 overall selection in the Major League Baseball draft, the Yankees outfielder harnessed his power to a level not seen since near the start of the century.

Judge’s 62 home runs ranks best ever in AL history and seventh all-time in Major League history when it comes to homers in a season.

San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds and his 73 home runs in 2001 tops the list, with Mark McGwire (70 HRs in 1998, 65 in 1999) and Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998, 64 in 2001 and 63 in 1999) also producing more long balls than Judge in a season.

Judge, who is from the small San Joaquin Valley town of Linden, recognized Bonds as the home run record holder.

But that hasn’t stopped others from viewing Judge as the “legit” single-season home run leader, considering all those who’ve hit more home runs that Judge in a single season played during baseball’s PED era.

By the way, the man who caught Judge’s 62nd home run was escorted by police through the stadium afterward.