NEW YORK (AP) Aaron Judge is the Yankee Greeter.
A favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year and a contender for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award, Judge jogs toward the dugout at the end of every defensive inning, but he stops short of the steps.
Instead of descending, he waits. And waits. And waits.
All his teammates pass before the rookie returns to the bench.
”Just let the other guys go first,” he said. ”I wanted to say something to them.”
In a tradition-filled sport that honors unwritten codes and enforces eons-old etiquette, rookies still lug ball bags and fetch coffee for veterans. But the 25-year-old doesn’t wait because of seniority. He wants to voice his admiration.
”I think it started in college,” he said, thinking back to 2011 at Fresno State. ”My freshman year I played left field. Our dugout was on the third-base side, so I always was the first one there. Someone made a good play, I wanted to be the first to say: `Hey, good play,’ or pick somebody up or do something like that.”
Judge has become beloved in the Bronx, greeted by fans with ”All Rise” signs and a ”Judge’s Chambers” in the right-field seats where fans wear robes and at times powdered wigs in the manner of British barristers.
Around baseball, opposing managers and players compliment him for his deferential demeanor and just-one-of-the guys attitude. A little over a year since he made his major league debut with a bang – a home run off the railing above the center-field sports bar and into the netting above Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park – Judge has become the nexus of New York’s new generation of Baby Bombers, his No. 99 the highest-selling jersey in the major leagues and his 6-foot-7 frame making him stand above nearly all others on the field.
”I can sense they like their team here, the enthusiasm, the youth, the energy,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. ”Aaron Judge seems to capture that Yankee fame that guys before him have had.”
After a slow start in the playoffs, Judge is hitting .313 with two doubles, two homers and six RBIs against Houston in the AL Championship Series, leading the Yankees to a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 on Friday night. With one more win, he would follow Derek Jeter’s career path and reach the World Series as a rookie.
Judge hit a rookie record 52 home runs, leading the AL in homers, runs (128) and walks (127), and also topping the major leagues with 208 strikeouts following a prolonged second-half slump. He runs into the right-field wall to make catches and leaped to rob Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor of a home run in Game 3 of the Division Series.
”I’m impressed by how he plays,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said after Judge hit a two-run homer to help the Yankees top the Twins in the AL wild-card game. ”All I’ve heard about this guy, he’s the kind of guy that you want to have up front in our game. … I think we’re in good hands with people like him.”
Players and fans marvel at Judge’s long balls: He hit the farthest homer of the season, a drive that would have traveled 495 feet unimpeded, and also hit a 484-footer. In the clubhouse, he plays an equally important role.
”Guys like Judge, make you feel comfortable,” said third baseman Todd Frazier, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in July. ”I feel like this guy has been here 10 years-plus. He’s humble as all heck.”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman appreciates Judge’s genuflection and credits the way he was raised.
”He’s got great parents,” Cashman said. ”I think how he goes about his business is a lot (like) when Jeter was a young player coming through our system. I think Derek had great parenting, and I think Aaron Judge has, too.”
AP freelance writer Scott Orgera contributed to this report.
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