Aaron Judge (left) and Doug Fister

Courtesy Fresno State athletics

Bradford: Before Aaron Judge, there was ... Doug Fister?

Rob Bradford
July 13, 2017 - 9:52 pm

In 2012 Doug Fister made his annual return to his alma mater, Fresno State, to work out and get some throwing in.

But this time he noticed one Bulldog who stood out from the rest. The 6-foot-8 Fister hadn't encountered many players who could stare him in the eye. So when a sophomore emerged standing at virtually the same height as the pitcher, it was hard to ignore.

Fister had just laid eyes on Aaron Judge for the first time. It wouldn't be the last.

"I would take a lot of time and sit with our head coach [Mike Batesole] and he would fill me in what kind of ballplayer he was," the Red Sox hurler told WEEI.com. "To see how excited he was over Aaron, that's the fun part."

The two players ended up talking, exchanging numbers and becoming friends, even hiring the same agent.

Now, as the Yankees come to Fenway Park on Friday to open a four-game series with the Red Sox, the duo will shake hands for the first time as fellow big leaguers.

"You could tell he was a great kid," Fister said. "He was really quiet at the time, but was a great talent. You could tell what kind of kid he was, which was definitely something special. I'll text him once in a while and keep tabs on him, especially now that he's in the big leagues.

"He's done a lot of work. I know the back story to it. I can't say I've helped him in any way, but knowing what he's done, he's done a lot of things that have locked him in and obviously it's proven to be really good. Nobody is going to out-work him. That's always been his MO. He's a hard worker and is going to do anything he can to succeed. Being in the environment in New York, he's a level-headed kid who knows what he wants and you're not going to stop him until he gets it."

But there is so much more to the pair's story than just attending the same school and standing the same height. In some ways, Fister was Fresno State's original Aaron Judge.

Like Judge, Fister entered the program as a player whose path could lead to pitching or hitting. Before coming to Fresno State he had hit .370 with an 1.058 OPS for Merced College. But after 73 at-bats with Fresno, resulting in a .192 batting average, it was determined pitching would be his thing.

"The pitching just took over," said Fister's catcher at Fresno State, Ryan Overland, who also coached Judge as an assistant coach. "He was obviously good enough to do both at the Division 1 level. It's tough to do both at any level and one usually takes over, and pitching just took over for him."

Six years after Fister made his positional decision, Judge was pressed to do the same.

While the only pitching Judge did after graduating from Linden High (just 70 miles from where Fister grew up) came in the form of a one-inning stint with the summer league Anchorage Glacier Pilots, his former coach said it could have been a very different story.

"They are both extremely gifted athletes," Overland said. "Aaron came in as a very good pitcher out of high school and just gravitated toward hitting. He's a guy who could definitely be pitching in the major leagues."

The decisions by each have worked out just fine, as is evidenced by where they find themselves this weekend. 

Perhaps the bond started with Fister's father playing football for Fresno State, or Judge's parents graduating from the school, leading both to the jumping off point for their professional careers. But those who know them insist the resemblance stretches well beyond school, height, or positional flexibility. 

"There are definitely a lot of similarities," Overland explained. "They grew up in similar type places. And their willingness to do whatever it takes for the team attitude is the same. Both have that humble side to them, but both also are extremely competitive and lay it all on the line on the field. They will put both their teammates ahead of themselves, but on the field they also both have a mean streak to them."

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