Hairston headlines SIU Hall of Fame class of six

By Gus Bode

When Jerry Hairston Jr. starred on the SIU baseball team in 1996 and 1997, Salukis’ radio announcer Mike Reis said he knew Hairston would get a shot to play in the majors.

After 11 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds, Hairston came back to Carbondale where he was inducted into the SIU Hall of Fame with five other former Saluki athletes during halftime of the men’s basketball game against Evansville on Saturday.

The 2009 class was made up of Hairston, pitcher Dale Kisten, track and field athletes Ron Harrer and Mike Kee, volleyball player Lori Simpson and multi-sport athlete Clint Smothers.

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‘It feels great. It’s definitely a tremendous honor,’ Hairston said. ‘Something, obviously, you don’t really think about, but when I got the call I was really, really pleased and excited, and definitely proud to be a part of it.’

Reis said Hairston, who hit .360 in two seasons with the Salukis, just carried himself differently than other players.

‘Certain players you can just see, and the more I got to know him, there was just something different about him,’ Reis said. ‘He wanted to win as much as any baseball player I have ever seen at SIU, and he wanted to compete, and he wanted it in the biggest moments.’

Hairston will continue to have opportunities to compete in big moments after signing with the Reds last week to ensure himself a 12th season in Major League Baseball.

Reis said Kisten, like Hairston, was a player SIU turned to during big games. Kisten, a starting pitcher for the Salukis from 1986-1988, was named first-team all-conference in the Missouri Valley Conference in 1986 and 1987.

He holds the school records for most career complete games with 24, and most career games started with 44. Kisten’s 25 career wins ranks third all-time in SIU history.

Kisten said he is most proud of the frequency that he completed the games he started, which is less common today now that pitching roles are more specialized.

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‘Even when I did sign with the St. Louis Cardinals after SIU, I went into the short relief role as a stopper,’ Kisten said. ‘So I thought for sure I would never go into that but that was what was available and I ended up doing that, and it was the same way. We had a setup guy, we had a stopper, you had middle relief. And that’s just the way the game is played now.’

Kee was a three-time all-American during his career on the track and field team from 1976-1978.

Simpson was an outside hitter on the SIU volleyball team from 1987-1991, winning the Gateway Conference’s Player of the Year award in her final season. She also ranks sixth in school history in career kills, with 449, and 10th in career digs at 935.

Smothers excelled in multiple sports, playing baseball, football and track at SIU. He was named second-team all-MVC in 1992 and led the baseball team in batting average at .315 in 1993. He also lettered as a pole-vaulter during his time with the Salukis from 1990-1994.

Harrer, who was a thrower for the track team from 1985-1988, said he started in humbler beginnings than most other SIU Hall of Fame members. Harrer said he attended small high schools and never finished high in state competition, which led to little recruitment efforts from the Salukis.

‘I just walked on down here, very little expectations and so getting this far is pretty awesome,’ said Harrer, who also said his best memory was when he was named the MVC’s most valuable track and field athlete in 1987.

Harrer’s type of underdog spirit is also what Hairston said is what he’s carried with him during his long career in Major League Baseball.

‘I think everybody would attest to this being at Southern you’re kind of, sort of the underdog, and that’s what I loved about southern Illinois, and I think I take that with me when I’m in the major leagues,’ Hairston said. ‘I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the strongest, but I definitely have that underdog fight and that’s definitely carried me.’

Scott Mieszala can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 269 or [email protected]

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