TAMPA, Fla. -- The phrase "All Rise" had yet to be linked to the rookie outfielder with the hulking football build, to say nothing of a dedicated seating area that debuted at Yankee Stadium three months later, celebrating both his immense power and fan appeal.Yet we should have known that
TAMPA, Fla. -- The phrase "All Rise" had yet to be linked to the rookie outfielder with the hulking football build, to say nothing of a dedicated seating area that debuted at Yankee Stadium three months later, celebrating both his immense power and fan appeal.
Yet we should have known that Aaron Judge was about to accomplish special things. It was one year ago today, Feb. 24, 2017, that Judge dropped jaws with a monstrous home run that clanged off of George M. Steinbrenner Field's scoreboard in the Yankees' first home game of the spring.
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The fifth-inning blast off of Phillies left-hander Elniery Garcia was an appetizer for the greatness to come. MLB.com is marking the first anniversary of that moment with remembrances of that swing and the ones that followed for the reigning American League Rookie of the Year.
Judge, outfielder: "I was still thinking about my first at-bat, taking a first-pitch strike and getting behind, and eventually striking out that first at-bat. I told myself just going into it, 'Hey, if that first pitch is there, you're in a game. Compete! If he leaves it right in the middle, take a good swing at it.'"
Garcia challenged Judge with a 93-mph, first-pitch fastball, a little above belt-high. Judge was ready.
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Judge: "I took a good swing, and it was a hot spring day here in Tampa, with the wind blowing out. I was able to get it off that Budweiser sign."
Phillies left fielder Tyler Goeddel and center fielder Roman Quinn hardly moved in pursuit, while catcher Andrew Knapp craned his neck for a better view. In the Yankees' dugout, most of Judge's teammates marveled.
Luis Severino, pitcher: "I was here. I've been playing with him since maybe 2014, so I'm used to seeing those kinds of homers. I wasn't that impressed for that. I've seen it before."
Tyler Wade, infielder: "When you're that strong and that big and you can connect with the ball when you haven't seen pitching in six months, and you can do that, that's pretty special."
Austin Romine, catcher: "I'm sure everybody was talking about it throughout the camp. Any time somebody hits the ball really far, everybody talks about it."
Judge: "The longest one I got here, I think I got one over the scoreboard, but I think that was in batting practice. I don't even know. The wind was blowing out, too, so it probably pushed it out a little bit."
Judge homered in his first Major League at-bat on Aug. 13, 2016, going back-to-back with Christopher Austin off the Rays' Matt Andriese, but his first taste of the big leagues produced mixed results. Judge hit .179 with 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats before sustaining a season-ending oblique injury. Returning home to California, Judge etched ".179" atop the notes folder of his iPhone, vowing to use the digits as fuel for his winter workouts.
Greg Bird, first baseman: "Early on in spring, I would just check in with him. He would tell me, 'I'm ready. I'm good.' There was a lot of chatter last spring for him, in general. He would say, 'I'm good.' That was all I needed to hear from him."
Judge: "In the offseason, the work I was putting in, how my body was feeling -- I knew that the way my swing was feeling, we had a chance to do something special. You're never given anything, especially with the season I had before that. There were a lot of question marks. I knew I had a chance of making this team. I just wanted to go out there and prove it and give it my best shot, and just leave everything out on the table. Through all the hard work in the offseason, I felt like I had a pretty good chance of doing something."
Wade: "When I see a guy like that work so hard, I can see it progressively getting better and better throughout the spring in his at-bats. I was like, 'It's only a matter of time before it clicks,' and it did. Be yourself and just work hard. Don't let anyone outwork you. I asked him this year, 'Hey, I'm kind of in the same situation you were last year -- you came off a tough rookie year. What was your mindset?' He goes, 'Dude, just come in and work your butt off. Just stick to the process and things are going to work out.'"
The homer was one of three Judge hit in the spring of 2017, batting .333/.391/.540 in 25 games as he edged Aaron Hicks (.268/.379/.518) and was named the Yankees' Opening Day right fielder.
Brian Cashman, general manager: "I'd say halfway through camp, Hicks was winning by a hair. The last two or three weeks of camp, Hicks didn't necessarily lose it as much as Judge took it. That wasn't false conversations. If Hicks wins the everyday job, then having Judge with options versus having Judge come off the bench, him coming off the bench would serve him no good. It was more like, you've got to win that everyday job or you're going to Triple-A, and he knew that."
Judge: "[Spring Training] didn't start off too well with the strikeout in the first at-bat, but just being able to make solid contact, I was happy with the swing. I felt comfortable in the box. That's all I was looking for. If I'm making consistent contact, even if they're outs or right at somebody, if I'm just making consistent contact, I'm happy."
Carsten Sabathia, pitcher: "He was fighting for a job. We just wanted him to feel comfortable and make the team and just be on the Opening Day roster. Everything that came after that was just amazing and not a surprise, but the icing on the top."
Romine: "Any time you look at Judge, you can see the possibility of unbelievable things. He's an unbelievable athlete. I knew his swing was in a better place, I knew he was comfortable, but no one could have predicted what he did."
Reggie Jackson, special advisor: "Our owner, Hal Steinbrenner, wanted him in the big leagues in 2017. We were going to take a chance one way or the other, and he was going to make it or fail because he was going to get a chance to play. Our owner saw to that, our general manager made sure he was there, and of course, our manager [Joe Girardi] put him on the field."
Judge's first homer of the regular season came on April 9, off the Orioles' Michael Givens. His teammates quickly learned to pay attention during batting practice, not wanting to miss the next fireworks display.
Adam Warren, pitcher: "When he first got drafted [in 2013], we were in Oakland. He came out and took BP with us. The ball sounded so much different off of his bat. You're talking about hitting with a bunch of big league guys. He was just out of college. You just knew right then why he was drafted and what kind of potential he had with the power. The best part about shagging BP for a pitcher is watching him. He hits balls where you've never even thought balls will be hit."
Bird: "I just know Judgey and know what he's capable of, and know how much work he puts in in the offseason. When he told me that he was ready, that was all I needed to know. He was confident, his work was good, he was sticking to what he knew and what he wanted to do. There's always been a lot of people helping him and around him. He's just very good at getting what he needs to get done, and saying thanks and being polite, but doing what he needs to do and taking care of his work."
Judge set a Major League rookie record by hitting 52 homers, highlighting a remarkable season that also included a winning performance at the T-Mobile Home Run Derby in July. Judge was named the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year and finished second in the MVP Award chase to the Astros' Jose Altuve.
Severino: "Everybody was expecting that [Judge would be successful], but nothing crazy like what he did. I think he changed a little bit with his mechanics, how he hits. I thought maybe there was a good chance for him to have a good year, but nothing crazy like what he did."
P.J. Pilittere, assistant hitting coach: "There's a million people in the organization who had a hand in helping that guy speed the process up. He's such a genuine guy. What he gives the world and the media is the truth. It is a really clear picture of who he is as a person, and that personality is infectious. He's really fun to be around."
Sabathia: "I think everybody knew what he was capable of doing, you know what I'm saying? But to have him do that throughout the whole year was amazing to watch, especially his first season."
With the December 2017 acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees created a tandem that has been likened to the modern-day version of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Despite the star power, Judge said that he is taking the same approach that helped him be successful in 2017.
Judge: "You're always still trying to win a job. That's everyone's mindset, come in here and fight for your job, win a job. Getting a chance to be with the team all of last year, you're more familiar with things, which is a little bit easier for me. But I've still got to fight for a job or my spot, just like everybody else."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.