Aaron Judge stepped into the batter’s box for the first time as a major-leaguer in Yankee Stadium. He was excited and nervous. He found himself in a two-strike count. The pitcher threw a changeup and he swung.
Four hundred and forty six feet later his first hit landed well past the center field wall.
The night before, Judge was eating dinner with his parents after a game for the Yankees’ Triple A team. A half-hour after midnight, his manager walked over and told him to hurry up. Judge had to be in New York later that morning.
“When I got told, it was pretty crazy,” Judge said in a phone interview.
Judge was called up along with teammate Tyler Austin, with whom he had played for a few years in the minors. On Aug. 13, they joined the senior team in the Bronx. Austin was batting seventh in the order, with Judge at eighth.
“Tyler Austin was in front of me making his debut as well,” Judge said.
As he was waiting in the on deck circle, Judge saw Austin hit a home run in his first at bat. Judge did not expect to follow Austin in similar fashion.
“I’m just trying to make contact,” Judge said.
He started his time in New York with a bang and has held his own as the starting right fielder. Judge and fellow rookie teammates Austin and Gary Sanchez have been dubbed the “Baby Bombers” and continue to live up to the nickname.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi is excited to have Judge on the team and was impressed with his first home run.
“It’s a special shot,” Girardi said in the postgame press conference as he laughed when recalling how far it travelled.
Judge was drafted from Fresno State by the Yankees with the thirty-second pick in the 2013 draft. He starred with the Bulldogs in right field from 2011-2013, often showing off the power that comes from his 6-foot-7-inch frame.
Judge is thankful for the opportunities given to him by the university and head baseball coach Mike Batesole. He cherishes the relationship he has with his former coach and stays in touch with him regularly.
Batesole was anticipating Judge’s call-up to the Yankees.
“It was really cool,” Batesole said. “I never got to play in the big leagues, but every time one of my guys gets there it feels like a tiny piece of me does.”
Batesole said he scrambled to see him play right away.
“I was about to get on a plane the next day and go to New York, and I looked at the schedule and said, ‘What the heck, in a couple days they’re coming to Anaheim’,” he said.
Batesole spent the weekend series in Anaheim with Judge, spending time with him during batting practice. Batesole said it was special to see Judge in his element.
The weekend before was when Judge played for the first time, and Batesole was following it. Batesole was ecstatic when Judge came up to the plate for the first time and hit that home run.
“I haven’t yelled at the TV that loud in a long time. That was beautiful,” he said.
Batesole knew Judge was special when he coached him at Fresno State.
“I thought he should’ve been the first player taken in the whole draft,” Batesole said.
Batesole said Judge has the makeup and character to stick in New York.
“It’s rare to have a kid that’s that tough and still has that big beautiful smile that he has,” Batesole said.
Judge is appreciative of Batesole for his help on and off the field.
“He brought me in and taught me so many things about the game of baseball, but also he always emphasized more importantly to be a better person,” Judge said.
Judge enjoyed his time at Fresno State and said the classes and the environment of the school helped develop him.
“I can’t thank Fresno State enough for the opportunity it gave me,” Judge said.
Judge’s time in New York has not been flawless – he struggles with strikeouts, though he is constantly learning and trying to improve. Batesole said Judge should be fine with the strikeouts and will work through it.
“He’s just a rookie kid learning,” Batesole said. “He’ll get through those growing pains.”
The Yankees are in the middle of the playoff race, but were not expected to be there after some midseason trades. The Yankees traded four veterans and decided to call up young prospects such as Judge.
“To get the opportunity to get called up with a couple guys and be in this race and try to impact this team is great,” Judge said. “We’re just a couple games out, we’ve got to take it a day at a time.”