Who Is Aaron Judge?
Fans of the New York Yankees really
don’t like the Boston Red Sox. The two teams have been fierce rivals for more than a century. A Yankees fan’s two favorite teams are the Yankees . . . and whoever is playing against the Red Sox. If that is true, then why, late in the 2022 season, were fans at Yankee Stadium actually cheering
for the Red Sox to score? This unusual situation came up because Yankees slugger Aaron Judge would get another chance to hit only if Boston tied the game . . . and he’d get another chance at tying an all-time home run record. Yankees fans had been cheering for Aaron all season, and they hoped he would tie and break the record in his home stadium. Aaron appreciated their support. “Seeing Yankee Stadium on their feet for every single at-bat [was amazing],” Aaron said. “They were booing pitchers for throwing balls [out of the strike zone], which I’ve never seen before.”
Game after game in a short series of games, however, Red Sox pitchers avoided throwing Aaron good pitches. The fans booed that, too! In one game, the fans groaned in frustration even when Aaron hit a double—usually something worth cheering. It wasn’t a homer, so it wasn’t what they wanted. In another game, fans in Yankees shirts shouted, “Let’s go, Red Sox!” as Boston tried to tie the score to force extra innings. (It didn’t work.) Finally, in the last game of that Red Sox series, the crowd went home sad and wet when Aaron didn’t hit a homer and the game ended due to rain after only six innings, three short of a normal game.
That meant Yankees fans—and baseball lovers everywhere—had to keep waiting. Then, on September 28, he hit his 61st homer; that tied the American League (AL) and Yankees record set by Roger Maris in 1961. Roger’s son was in the stands in Toronto to watch that big moment. Aaron needed one more home run to break the record. The season was almost over. Would there be enough games left for him to break the record? Yankees fans held their breath as Aaron went into a home run slump! Game after game, he didn’t hit one out.
In the Yankees’ second-to-last game, they were in Texas to play the Rangers. Aaron led off the game against right-hander Jesus Tinoco. On the third pitch, Aaron blasted a long drive (a ball hit a great distance) to left field. The ball flew on and on . . . and out! It was a home run, number 62 of the season! Aaron had done it! He was the new AL home run champ!
Here’s the story about the amazing path from small-town hero to big-league superstar, the story of the rise of Aaron Judge. Chapter 1 Finding A Family
On April 26, 1992, Aaron James Judge was born in Linden, California. Linden is a small farming community about ninety miles east of San Francisco. The town is famous for its cherry trees.
When he was just two days old, Aaron was adopted by Wayne and Patty Judge. The Judge family already had a son, John, who had been adopted seven years earlier.
Aaron’s parents were teachers, and early on they made him focus on education. Aaron had other ideas. “I wanted to go outside and play with my friends or play some video games, but they were tough on me,” he remembered later. “They’d say, ‘Hey, you’ve got homework to do. If you have time left over before dinner, you can go play.’ ”
Aaron loved to play. There was not a sport he was not good at. He grew quickly and was soon among the biggest kids in his neighborhood.
But as he grew, he also noticed that he did not look like his parents. Aaron was biracial, but his parents were white. When Aaron was about ten, he asked them about it. Wayne and Patty told Aaron that both he and John had been adopted. “I was fine with it,” he said many years later. “It really didn’t bother me because [they’re] the only parents I’ve known.” Aaron said that after they had that talk, he went right out to play!
Later, Aaron said he felt being adopted made him appreciate his parents even more. “I have one set of parents, the ones that raised me. Some kids grow in their mom’s stomach; I grew in my mom’s heart.”
Meanwhile, Aaron learned a lot about sports from his father. Along with being a teacher, Wayne was the Linden High School basketball coach. Aaron often went to practices to help out as a ball boy. Being around older players helped shape Aaron’s ideas about the game. He saw the hard work that Wayne’s teams put in. He also had fun when they let him take some shots. In middle school, Aaron was six feet tall, bigger than some of the high-school players!
By the time he reached high school himself, Aaron was more than six feet, three inches tall and still growing. He joined the Linden High School Lions teams for basketball, baseball, and football, and became a star for all three sports. Though Wayne was no longer the basketball coach, Aaron excelled, using his height to set scoring records. As a senior, he averaged 18.2 points per game and was named to an all-state team. In football, Aaron’s size made him a great receiver. He was able to leap above opponents or use his strength to break tackles. He set a school record with 17 touchdowns in his final season.
Aaron enjoyed baseball more than the other sports. He mostly played first base, but he also pitched for the Lions. As a hitter, his batting average topped .500, which means he got a hit at least every other official at bat. He began crushing long home runs, some that his coaches said went five hundred feet or more! Opposing teams often just walked Aaron rather than give him a chance to hit another homer. Aaron’s focus on working hard continued, even as he excelled. His high-school coaches remember that after almost every game, win or lose, Aaron asked to take extra batting practice to work on his swing.
While he was at Linden High, Aaron also began a lifetime habit of helping out. He and his basketball teammates would regularly pick up trash around the community.
With so much athletic talent, Aaron was recruited by colleges in all three sports, especially for football. Powerhouse schools like the University of Notre Dame and UCLA offered him scholarships. “I thought about going the football route,” Aaron said later. “But I saw myself having fun playing baseball for the rest of my life.”
California State University, Fresno—known as Fresno State—was only about a two-hour drive from Linden. Wayne and Patty Judge had graduated from that college. Aaron went to a baseball camp there, and coach Mike Batesole was impressed. “He took like three swings. I said, ‘Forget the rest of camp, are your mom and dad here?’ We offered him a scholarship right then and there.”
In the fall of 2010, Aaron became a Fresno State Bulldog. Chapter 2 The Road to Yankee Stadium
The move up to college baseball helped Aaron improve his skills even more. One of his highschool coaches, Leif Nilsen, said that playing at Fresno State really helped Aaron get the right training to aim at the major leagues. Aaron hit .358 in his first season and was named a Freshman All-American. He helped the Bulldogs win a second straight conference championship in 2012. That July, Aaron won the College Home Run Derby. In front of fans from around the country, he smashed 16 homers in three rounds. Aaron also continued to learn to be a good teammate. At Fresno State, players had to pay a dollar every time they boasted about doing something or used “I” or “my” too often in interviews. That taught Aaron to put the team first.
In the summer of 2012, Aaron played for the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod Baseball League in Massachusetts. Some of the best college players in the country spend the summer in that league, improving their skills. They play with wood bats, which are not used in college but are used in professional baseball. Working with wood bats is an adjustment players need to make to reach the majors. Aaron used his time to get better at hitting homers. During an event at Boston’s Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, Aaron amazed scouts from major-league teams with a power display, launching very long home runs. He had one more college season to play, but it was clear to experts that his future was as a professional player.
Aaron learned a lot in Cape Cod, and in 2013, his third year at Fresno State, he smashed 12 homers in 56 games. That was three times as many as he had hit in any previous college season. In the summer of 2013, the Yankees made him their first-round choice in the MLB Amateur Draft, an event at which teams select high-school and college players. Aaron got a signing bonus of $1.8 million, thrilling his parents and all of his fans back in Linden. Unfortunately, while training before joining the Yankees’ minor-league team, Aaron tore a muscle in his leg. He had to miss nearly a year while he recovered.
In 2014, he reported to Yankees’ camp in Florida, ready to show what he could do. He was assigned uniform number 99; most rookies are given very high numbers. When they make the major leagues, they often change to a lower number. Aaron, however, grew to love his unique digits and still wears 99 today.
No matter how high a player is drafted, nearly all of them spend time in the minor leagues, adjusting to life as a pro. Aaron played for the Tampa Yankees and the Charleston RiverDogs at the Single-A level in 2014. In 2015, he moved up to the Double-A level with the Trenton Thunder, and then to the Triple-A with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Aaron had lots of homers and long hits while in the minor leagues, but he also had a lot of strikeouts—he hit 56 homers, but he struck out 373 times.
The Yankees still felt he would be a big leaguer. In mid-August 2016, Aaron had just finished a game for the RailRiders in Rochester, New York, when he got the call that he was wanted at Yankee Stadium the next day.
Aaron and his parents, who had been visiting him, drove through the night to reach the big city. Wayne and Patty were in the stands on August 13, 2016, when Aaron, in his first major-league at bat with the Yankees, hit a home run!
Aaron’s first major-league home run was a thrilling moment, but in other big-league games the rest of that 2016 season, there were few others like it. Aaron hit only three more homers that season . . . and struck out a total of 42 times. His batting average was only .179. Aaron had great potential, but that short visit to the big leagues with the Yankees showed him that he had a lot to learn, too.
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