OAKLAND (AP) — Aaron Judge sat surrounded by cameras and recorders in a bustling Yankees dugout with all the attention focused on him as he returned to his Northern California roots.
He hardly seemed like a rookie, rather so relaxed like someone who has been doing this for years.
Judge beamed at the idea two busloads of fans might be headed this way during the weekend from his tiny hometown in the Central Valley to cheer him as he plays for New York against the Athletics.
Then, he reminded everybody he’s here for baseball. And he sure has been sensational in his first full big league season in the Bronx.
“It’s been a journey,” Judge said of his road since leaving Fresno State. “A lot of people helped me and supported me along the way and a lot of those people are going to be here this weekend, so I’m excited.”
He entered the four-game series batting .338 with 22 home runs and 49 RBIs. Judge then smoked a first-inning single to right-center on the first pitch he saw from Sonny Gray on Thursday night.
Judge attended college a couple of hours away from his hometown, which has a population less than 2,000. His parents had attended Fresno State and could regularly drive to see him play.
Manager Joe Girardi could only imagine Judge might have some anxiety with all of the hype for his Bay Area visit.
“I think probably in more instances than not for young players, no it doesn’t relax you,” Girardi said. “I think there’s a ton of demands. Your phone probably blows up a lot more for tickets. In that situation as a player you only get so many. You’re trying to keep everyone happy and you don’t want to disappoint anyone that’s helped you along the way. You’ve only got so much time and you’ve only got so many tickets and you have to do your job. I think sometimes it’s hard for young players to say no but I think it’s something most of them learn over their career.”
Judge is the second adopted son of physical education teachers Wayne and Patty Judge, who live in tiny Linden outside Stockton in Northern California’s Central Valley. They adopted each boy at birth, six years apart.
“Day 1,” his proud father said before Judge was drafted four years ago. “We went through the whole thing.”
Aaron was born at 8 1/2 pounds and at his regular checkups the pediatrician told his parents he would be tall — perhaps 6-foot-8 or 6-9.
Now, Judge is close: 6-7 and 282 pounds.
“We knew as we kept taking him to our doctor, he was always at the top of the charts for his age group, big hands and feet, the doctor said,” recalled Wayne.
When Judge was drafted in 31st round by Oakland out of high school, he opted to go to college. Judge said Thursday the decision came down to, “I didn’t think I was mature enough as a person, as a player.”
His parents offered their input, but ultimately it was his choice.
“Patty did some research and we told Aaron here’s the paperwork, it’s up to you, what it’s going to take, or what value you put on an education and college,” his father said. “I just got a strange hunch it’s going to cost a major league team a heck of a lot more.”
The Yankees selected Judge 32nd overall in the first round of the 2013 amateur draft.
Girardi has been impressed with not only Judge’s maturity but his ability to work to make adjustments that turn into positive results. He has cut down on his strikeouts, taken more walks and produced with two strikes.
“He’s always working, always trying to get better. Understands when he makes mistakes, doesn’t make excuses,” Girardi said. “I can remember a particular incident in spring training, he was there two hours after the game in the cage still hitting with Rob Refsnyder. They were working on things. I was like, ‘OK, you guys have got to go home pretty soon, I don’t want your hands bleeding. That’s just who he’s always been.”
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