Yankees fans needed a reason to believe in 2017 after several down years, and just over a month into the season they found one: A 6-foot-7, 282-pound rookie from Linden, California, with Babe Ruth’s power and Derek Jeter’s comfort in front of our city’s bright lights.
Aaron Judge has been crushing the ball since Opening Day, with a league-leading 13 home runs soaring into the Yankee Stadium stands. In just more than a month, the 25-year-old has become a sign of hope, an avatar of the team’s hot start (20-9 heading into Monday night’s game) and a genuine New York City sports star.
It’s early in the season, of course, and hyperbole can be dangerous, but Yankees fans have bought in. While Judge is a very different sort of player than the superstar captain who retired in 2014, the parallels have begun.
“I want to kind of say I’m reliving my memory of watching Jeter play. ... It’s amazing,” said Brooklyn resident Pedro Lopez, an employee at Manhattan’s Seventh Avenue Yankees Clubhouse store.
Others hailed the rookie’s enthusiasm for the game.
“I think his attitude is what’s driving this,” said Shawn Dataram, 31, of Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. “You can tell he has a passion for it and it rubs off on the other teammates. They’re playing at their best.”
His teammates, awed by the nightly displays of power, have become fans themselves.
“You can hear it,” catcher Austin Romine said of the crack of Judge’s bat. “Even if you’re not watching or you’re doing something in the dugout, you can hear it. The sound off the bat, it’s amazing.”
Judge jersey sales have soared since his power surge began, Lopez said. Last week, only about a dozen bobbleheads remained, and the store was sold out of player T-shirts with his name on them. His jersey sales ranked third in all of baseball at MLBShop.com over a weeklong span, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported last Friday.
The man himself has managed to stay pretty unflappable about it all.
He’s unfazed by the Jeter comparisons.
“There’s only one Derek Jeter,” he said earlier this month. “It’s a great compliment, an honor to be in the same sentence, but I’m just going out there trying to be the best Aaron Judge I can be.”
He’s a cool customer when it comes to the pressures that come with being a big star on the most iconic of all New York’s sports teams.
“This is New York,” Judge said. “This is the biggest market, people watch us, people love the Yankees, so you get prepared for it. So when this moment comes, it’s just a regular day.’’
And he’s stayed painstakingly level-headed about his amazing start to the season, specifically an April that earned him AL Rookie of the Month honors and which experts rank as one of the best of the 21st century.
“We’re just all trying to take it one day at a time, just like I am,” Judge said. “It’s been good.” With Erik Boland and Ivan Pereira