From time to time, I fall off the wagon and have to write about sports. I can’t help myself. Sport is embedded in my DNA.
As you might imagine, growing up in northern New Jersey, I became a Yankees fan before I learned to walk.
As my fellow Yankees fans know, this season has been a roller coaster ride. Before the All-Star break, they had the best record in baseball. After the break, they went into a tailspin. Guys got hurt, and everyone who was healthy and in the lineup seemed to be mired in a slump. The only player that continued to perform at a high level was number ninety-nine, Aaron Judge.
Aaron Judge is hard to miss. At 6’7″ and 280 lbs. he’s a physical freak of nature – an Adonis in pinstripes. As I write, he is on the doorstep of baseball nirvana. Even the casual fans know he is one swing away from tying the American League record for homers in a season. The record is held by Yankee great – Roger Maris, who hit 61 in 1961. As if that wasn’t enough, Judge is also chasing the Triple Crown, another rarity in Major League Baseball. It is awarded at the end of the season to a player who leads the league in 3 categories – batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Currently, Aaron is hitting .313 with 61 homers* and 130 RBI.
*Update – On Wednesday night, 9/28/22, in Toronto, with the score tied 3-3, Aaron Judge ripped a line drive home run to left, tying Roger Maris’s American League record of 61 homers in a season. He’ll look to break the record tonight in the Bronx.
Since the beginning of the major leagues in 1876, only 14 players have won baseball’s Triple Crown. But wait, there’s more. He’s also the odds-on favorite to win the AL’s Most Valuable Player Award. Many have said he has put together the most outstanding season in baseball history. However, what is even more impressive is who he is.
Aaron Judge is an exceptional human. On and off the field, he’s cool, calm, and collected. Recently by a reporter asked about his demeanor. Aaron explained that both of his parents are teachers, and from an early age, they taught him to be polite and respectful to others. He’s on what is arguably the biggest stage in the sport, under the bright lights of New York and the scrutiny of the most demanding fans. The way he deals with the media is “Jeter-like.” No drama! His words are carefully chosen, brief, and to the point. He will tell you, in no uncertain terms he’s focused on two things: being a great teammate and winning a championship. Sure, this is scripted, however, his actions speak louder than his words.
It didn’t take long to realize he was different. When was the last time you witnessed an outfielder in an MLB game playing catch with a kid in the stands between innings? This is just one small example of the mutual love affair between Aaron and the fans. When he’s asked about this relationship, he’ll tell you he was once that kid in the stands, and he understands that even a small gesture from a pro athlete can create a memory that lasts a lifetime.
Over the last couple of years, Aaron has become the face of the Yankees and MLB. He stands for everything that is right in sports and in the world. Regardless of your fan loyalty, it’s hard not to root for this guy.
I’d be remiss on this day if I didn’t give props to the legendary Albert Pujols (pronounced POO-hols) of the St. Louis Cardinals, who just smacked his 700th career home run last night Friday, September 23rd, in Los Angeles in the top of the 4th against the Dodgers. Only three others in the game’s history have hit 700 homers – Do the names Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, and Barry Bonds* ring a bell? After 22 years with the Cardinals and the Angels, at the age of 42, this is Albert’s final season. Many talking heads didn’t think he’d be able to make it to the magic number. He qualifies as a superhero, too. Who he is as a person far outweighs his prowess as a baseball player.