Published On: Thu, Jun 7th, 2018

Baseball royalty: What being a Yankee means to Aaron Judge

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TORONTO – Aaron Judge still pinches himself every time he puts on the uniform.

He’s the face of the New York Yankees – a baseball titan whose success is unrivaled. They’re the Evil Empire, the envy of all. And now, with a superstar in Judge leading the roster, baseball’s most accomplished organization appears poised for another run at sustained success.

When asked what it means to be a part of baseball royalty, Judge pauses – likely to ensure his answer meets the standards of an organization with 27 World Series titles and 40 American League pennants. He understands the weight the team’s history carries.

“That is a great question,” Judge told theScore at Rogers Centre on Tuesday. “It’s just history. I think about all the great ones that came before us to wear the pinstripes. Now, I get a chance to wear the pinstripes just like them. They paved the way for us and set a standard of winning. It’s what our franchise is known for, based on all the championships we’ve won and all the success we’ve had. It’s about winning, and doing things the right way.”

DRAFT DAY


This time of year brings some added nostalgia for the 26-year-old. It’s draft time across Major League Baseball, and it was just five years ago that Judge was another kid who dreamed of forging a successful baseball career. He was the 32nd pick, behind the likes of Kris Bryant, Jon Gray, and now teammate Clint Frazier, and he beams when reliving his first taste of being a Yankee.

“I got a chance to be at the draft, which was incredible,” he said. “We actually went to Yankee Stadium the day before. Being at the draft and hearing my name called by the Yankees, I couldn’t believe it. Once the whole draft was over and I was back at the hotel, I was sitting there like, ‘Did this really just happen? Am I really a Yankee?’

“To get the chance to get drafted by the New York Yankees, words couldn’t describe it. But I really didn’t embrace it and understand what it meant until I started being around the team and the organization. That’s when I truly understood why this organization is so special.”

Judge made his major-league debut at home against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 13, 2016. He and Tyler Austin were called up on the same day. Though Judge has gone on to win the American League Rookie of the Year, finish second in MVP voting, and become one of the game’s premier sluggers, the thought of his debut still resonates deeply.

“(I get) chills just thinking about it,” Judge said, rubbing his arm. “(Tyler and I) both got to the stadium early in the morning – it was a day game. We both walked out onto Yankee Stadium knowing that we’re going to be Yankees, playing on this field in a couple hours. It was breathtaking. Seeing the field getting prepared – it was better than any minor-league field I’ve ever been on (laughs). It was an incredible experience. I remember I had butterflies the whole day leading up to it.”

INTO THE RECORD BOOKS


It didn’t take long for him to make his mark. Judge rose to stardom faster than the exit velocity of one of his home runs. He had the best-selling jersey in the majors in 2017 and shattered Yankee records held by players deeply entrenched in baseball lore. Last season, he broke Yankee home run marks set by Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. He’s the first right-handed hitter in club history with at least 100 RBIs, 100 runs, and 100 walks in a season. He also owns the all-time rookie home run and walks record, and is the fastest to hit 70 homers.

When you remind Judge of these accomplishments, he greets them with a smirk. Given his appreciation for baseball history, he concedes that being on the list of players he’s grown up idolizing is something he never expected.

“It is humbling,” Judge said. “You always dream about being among the greats. Even when you see it on paper, that you just tied so-and-so for this record, you don’t believe it. You can’t process it. Based on what all those guys did for their careers, what they did for the team, the numbers they put up, you just can’t process it. That’s where I don’t try to think about that stuff.”

EMBRACING DESTINY


The pressure of New York has worn on many. The expectations of the fans and media is immense. The ghosts of Yankee legends are everywhere. Monument Park sits right next to Judge’s spot in right field. All of those factors make the Bronx a place like no other.

“It motivates us,” Judge said. “Wearing the pinstripes, playing in New York – it’s something special.”

Judge grew up in California. He admits he was a San Francisco Giants fan as a kid, but always found himself watching the Yankees because they “were always on TV in October.”

The Yankees missed the postseason in three of the previous four seasons before Judge broke out last year. Now, following an accelerated rebuild thanks to some expert moves by general manager Brian Cashman, the organization that was once synonymous with free spending has benefited from a loaded farm system. New York is poised for plenty more Octobers on TV, and it has the pieces to become the next Yankee dynasty.

“You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself,” Judge cautions when talking about a long run of success. “But one great thing about this team that we have is everybody takes it one day at a time. I just look back at us in the minor leagues and now (we’re) getting a chance to do it together. Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez, I played with them through the minors, plus so many other guys that you are seeing in the league. We came together through the minor leagues so we’re just like a family. It’s tough to describe what it would be like … I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)



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