Local media personality and ex-Fresno State baseball commentator dies of cancer

Ray O’Canto, the former Fresno State baseball commentator and local media personality, died Saturday.

O’Canto, 60, had been battling cancer for four months and spent his final six weeks in hospice care.

“It hurts,” said Bob Bennett, the longtime Bulldogs baseball coach. “You know he’s going to go. But it still hurts. And it feels so sudden. It was just a few months ago that he had a birthday party and looked great.

“He’s too young to lose him. It’s so sad.”

O’Canto was hospitalized in June after complaining of stomach pain. A CT scan revealed cancerous tumors in his liver, lungs and pancreas.

Then the treatment he underwent to kill the cancer, including chemotherapy, ended up causing severe complications.

“All of the side effects that are listed for chemo, poor Ray got,” wife Denise O’Canto told The Bee back in July. “The doctor told us two weeks ago that his body can’t stand the chemo. It was killing him.”

From Visalia to Fresno State

O’Canto grew up in Visalia, attended Redwood High and College of the Sequoias, and played baseball at Fresno State from 1980-81.

He later became the Bulldogs color commentator alongside play-by-play voice Paul Loeffler.

Together, they provided memorable broadcasts of the 2008 Fresno State baseball team’s improbable run at a College World Series title.

Loeffler delivered the details and context with insightful background information, while O’Canto provided baseball insider knowledge and energy.

Lots of energy.

Like after Fresno State beat Georgia 6-1 in the CWS championship game.

“Get dirty,’ baby!” O’Canto enthusiastically said over the airwaves as Fresno State celebrated a national title from Omaha, Neb. “Get dirty! Get dirty! Get dirty!”

“His smile lit up the stadium,” current Bulldogs coach Mike Batesole said of O’Canto. “It was so exciting to look over and see him in the dugout during practice or on game day — even if only for a few minutes.

“He always had an exciting story and was excited about the day in front of him. A true Bulldog. We lost a great one.”

‘DineOut Along the Road’

Later, O’Canto hosted a syndicated TV series “DineOut Along the Road” that highlighted the foods and history of places around the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

But it was his interactions with people that seemed to leave the biggest impact.

“Ray never met a stranger; he was everyone’s friend,” former Fresno State baseball player Bryan Marsoobian said. “His impact transcended baseball.”

That became apparent by the community outpouring of support for O’Canto after his family revealed he was entering hospice care. A GoFundMe page to help O’Canto’s family with medical expenses generated almost $47,000 (donations still are being accepted).

One man who’d known O’Canto since high school flew from Australia to pay a quick visit.

Eventually, the family received so many requests to see O’Canto that they had to turn down a few visits under doctor’s orders.

Nonetheless, friends say the support and encouragement that O’Canto received helped him live roughly six more weeks after doctors initially stated he might last only two to three days.

“Even though his physical strength was leaving him, his greatest strength — his personality, enthusiasm and making people feel special — that didn’t change,” Loeffler said. “I know it meant the world to him to have so many people visit and so many praying and so many people donating to help his family.

“The other thing we saw in him was that Bulldog mentality that came out. He kept believing and hoping and was trying to stick around for others and those he especially loved. He will be missed.”

Memorial service

A celebration of life service for O’Canto is scheduled at 10 a.m. on Oct. 11 at Holy Spirit Catholic Church.

Related stories from Vida en el Valle