New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge took Major League baseball by storm in 2017.
Judge, a massive human at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, set a rookie record with 52 home runs — many of them the towering shots that he became known for — and was named American League Rookie of the Year.
But long before the Linden native reached MLB stardom, he was just another cash-strapped college kid while attending Fresno State — a fact San Luis Obispo High School and Cuesta College graduate Max Duval knows well. The two crossed paths first on the diamond and then at a Fresno bar, and Duval contends the Yankees slugger still owes him money.
The story goes like this, according to Duval, currently a minor league pitcher in the Miami Marlins organization who’s back on the Central Coast for the offseason.
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Duval was a recently converted pitcher during his senior season at the University of Hawaii in 2013. Fresno State was hosting Hawaii on a Tuesday in May when the two came face-to-face in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I was still new as a pitcher,” Duval said Thursday. “He was hitting .350 with 18 bombs or something ridiculous like that.”
The at-bat was a battle and went on for 10 pitches, Duval said, until the count was full.
“I threw a ball chest high and in off the dish by about a foot,” Duval said. “There was no way anyone should hit this fastball, but he took a 90 mph fastball that was clearly a ball and didn’t even get barrel on it — he got the handle of it — but he is so strong and so powerful that this ball carried out and just cleared the left-field wall.”
It was a two-run home run, and Fresno State went on to beat Hawaii 8-6. After the game, Duval said he shook Judge’s hand and just smiled and shrugged.
Then Judge, Duval and players from both teams met up a bar to have a few drinks and talk baseball. Duval couldn’t help joking with Judge about the home run again.
“(Judge) tells me, ‘Hey I will grab this round,’ after I said something about the home run. He said something like, ‘Don’t worry about it, I probably owe you one,’ ” Duval said.
Judge, who had just turned 21 two months before, ordered the drinks at the bar and pulled out a credit card to pay the $80 tab — but the card was declined twice. Duval was standing next to him and saw what happened.
“I’ll pay for it,” Duval recalled telling Judge. “I threw my card down and paid the tab for him and a few other guys. He said, ‘I’ll get you back, man.’ And that was the last time I’ve seen him.”
Duval knows just what he’ll say if he sees Judge again.
“I am going to let him know he owes me 80 bucks,” he said.
Duval added he doesn’t think Judge tried to pull a fast one on him and holds no ill will, but he knows it will be a great party story for years to come.
Duval told the story in a series of tweets in November following Judge’s AL Rookie of the Year award, tagging the baseball superstar in them. So far he hasn’t heard back.
Duval agreed that after the All-Star season he had in 2017, Judge probably won’t have to worry about his card getting declined again anytime soon.
But if everything goes according to plan in Duval’s own baseball career, he will get another shot at striking out Judge — and maybe even getting his money back.