As longtime friends Tyler Triano and Diego Fisher were making the drive to Kansas last December, it symbolized the long, arduous journey they’ve been on since graduating from San Benito High in 2017.
In separate cars with their respective families, they left on Christmas Day, off to attend and play baseball for Kansas Wesleyan, a NAIA program in Salina, Kansas. Even though it’s only been four years since they graduated from high school, so much has changed since then.
Their voices are deeper now, they’ve packed on additional muscle to their once slender frames and their faces have grown into adulthood. The former San Benito standouts never thought they would end up at a NAIA program, much less the same one halfway across the country, but they’ll take it.
At one point, it looked like neither was going to end up playing at the four-year level again. But their friendship superseded baseball, and in the end, it helped get their athletic careers back on track.
“We were close friends through high school, in college and to this day,” Triano said. “We’ve leaned on each other for support.”
Triano attended Cal State Monterey Bay in the fall of 2017, taking part in the team’s fall ball program before playing in the ensuing 2018 season. But he was no longer enrolled at the school the next year and was sidelined with a minor tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. During his year off of college, Triano took EMT classes in preparation for a possible career as a paramedic and firefighter while also balancing a job delivering pizzas for Round Table.
One day, he delivered to the residence of former Balers teammate Isaiah Bueno, who was set to play baseball at Hartnell College.
“Isaiah and I were talking about baseball and how much I missed it,” Triano said. “He convinced me to go to Hartnell and talk to the coaches to see if I wanted to play. After the third practice, I knew I was going to play. I missed it way too much not to go back.”
Once Triano made that decision, he and Bueno convinced Fisher to join them at the Salinas community college. A week before the fall 2019 semester started, Fisher was enrolled at the school.
“It was the shot I was waiting for,” Fisher said. “It was perfect.”
Up until that point, Fisher’s career—and Triano’s—was in limbo. Fisher enrolled at San Jose State to play baseball but left after one semester, transferring to De Anza College in spring 2018. After one season with the Cupertino community college, Fisher took a redshirt year before departing the school. That’s when Bueno and Triano started calling him “non-stop” to come play at Hartnell.
“I had my friends there, I knew the coach and everything kind of fell into place,” Fisher said.
The trio of friends all played in the Covid-shortened 2020 season, and all three had strong seasons. Fisher said he was committed to play at Sonoma State for the 2021 season, but that situation fizzled last November. It was at that point when Fisher reached out to Triano to jump start their path to Kansas Wesleyan.
“I told Tyler if he could possibly reach out to some schools for me or knew of any schools I could possibly go to,” Fisher said. “I couldn’t waste any more time because my eligibility clock was running and I couldn’t afford to waste another year. So he reached out to a couple of schools, and one of them was Kansas Wesleyan.”
In early December, the two took a recruiting trip to the school and another small university an hour south, McPherson College. After the visits, Fisher and Triano had made up their minds where they were headed without telling the other. When it was time to reveal their choices, they counted to three before both of them said “Kansas Wesleyan.”
After sending in their transcripts and completing all of the necessary paperwork, they were told they had to be on campus by Dec. 27. The mad rush to pack all their belongings and prepare for a long road trip had begun. When they return to campus in August, they’ll be juniors athletically but seniors academically.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Triano and 6-3, 225-pound Fisher said they plan on completing their two remaining years of athletic eligibility. Both plan on pursuing a Master’s degree starting in 2022, Triano in accounting and Fisher in communications.
“Tyler and I are going to ride out our athletic eligibility as long as we can and finish,” Fisher said. “I’m going to stay because I can get my Masters for free, and I’m all for that.”
Triano had a terrific 2021 season for Kansas Wesleyan, which finished 32-19 playing in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. Making an impact as a hitter and pitcher, Triano went 5-2 as a starter, striking out 49 in 51 innings while limiting opponents to a .239 average. His 3.00 ERA was best among those in the starting rotation.
When Triano wasn’t on the bump, he played third base and displayed some power at the plate. He hit seven home runs in just 66 at-bats, or one for every 9 times up to bat. His .758 slugging percentage was best among the starting lineup. The highlight of Triano’s season came when he hit two grand slams—yes, two—in the same game, a 17-0 win over York on March 10.
“That was insane,” Triano said. “When I hit my first grand slam, I was like, ‘Wow, that was nice,’ because I had never hit one before. Then I hit another one and I’m thinking no way is this happening.”
Triano and Fisher actually missed the first couple of weeks of the season because of Covid-like symptoms, Triano said.
“They sent us to a little church that had dorm rooms and we were there for two weeks,” Triano said. “Then we finally got to play baseball again, which was great.”
It was just another bump on a road that has had many of them for the two longtime friends. Despite having a subpar season, Fisher felt reinvigorated and is working hard this summer to prepare for next season.
“I’m doing everything I possibly can so when I go back there, they’ll see a difference in me and know i’m ready to go,” the right fielder said.
Fisher and Triano are both 22 years old, making them two of the elder statesmen on the team. The first couple of times they practiced with the team, things were a bit awkward and quiet.
“Then one day one of the guys came up to us and all of a sudden it was a feeding frenzy,” Triano said. “Everyone started coming over. Those guys are kind-hearted young men. I’ve known them for maybe five to six months and it feels like I’ve known them my whole life. The coaches, too.”
At one point when both had taken time off of school, Fisher and Triano were searching for answers. When they hung out, the furthest subject on their mind was the state of their baseball careers. Through their ups and downs, Triano and Fisher displayed resilience and determination to see this through.
“A lot has happened since we graduated from high school,” Triano said. “We were little babies then. It’s pretty neat how all of this came together and flowed. We’re best buddies and things ended up working out right.”