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Yankees Magazine: Not-So-Odd Couple

When it comes to passion for the game and dedication to their craft, Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes have much in common
Yankees Magazine

Walking next to any fully uniformed New York Yankees player, it's easy to feel out of place. Traversing the Yankee Stadium outfield grass with Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes, there's a whole other element.

We're heading for the Masterpass Batter's Eye Deck to take some photos, and while I see eye-to-eye with Torreyes, who is listed in the Yankees media guide at 5 foot 8, Judge seems like he could step on me like a bug and not even notice.

Walking next to any fully uniformed New York Yankees player, it's easy to feel out of place. Traversing the Yankee Stadium outfield grass with Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes, there's a whole other element.

We're heading for the Masterpass Batter's Eye Deck to take some photos, and while I see eye-to-eye with Torreyes, who is listed in the Yankees media guide at 5 foot 8, Judge seems like he could step on me like a bug and not even notice.

"Hey, what time you got?" Judge asks at one point.

"It's 2:40," I reply. "Do you have to go? We can wrap this up right now."

"No," Judge said. "We're great."

It's an assessment that rings true for much more than this afternoon's pregame photo shoot. The All-Star break is still weeks away, but Judge is already the story of the year. The Yankees' slugging right fielder tied a rookie record with 10 home runs in April and is leading the team in RBI while displaying the all-around skills that led the Yankees to take him 32nd overall in 2013 -- a first-round compensation pick the team was awarded after the Indians signed free agent Nick Swisher.

Judge's white-hot start inevitably led to an increased presence off the field, from billboards and commercials to an incognito appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and his very own Sports Illustrated cover. At Yankee Stadium -- where fans started showing up in robes and wigs wielding foam gavels, which would lead to the creation of "The Judge's Chambers" in Section 104 -- his at-bats were becoming a phenomenon.

Filling the batter's box with his immense frame and sporting dark socks pulled up just below his knees, Judge could, for a moment, make it feel like a much different era. Just as any activity in the stands at the Polo Grounds must have ground to a halt when 25-year-old Babe Ruth stepped to the plate in 1920, concessionaires today must pause when the 25-year-old Judge digs in. Fans who have come to Yankee Stadium expecting to see this 6-foot-7 athletic marvel get a hold of one lock in on every pitch when No. 99 is in the box.

Video: BAL@NYY: Judge belts 495-foot homer, longest of 2017

Even with all those eyes on him and all those lofty expectations, Judge -- like Ruth did so many times -- delivers. He works a favorable hitter's count, gets a pitch he likes, then blasts it into orbit. Necks crane upward to watch the tiny white dot shrink against the black night sky above Yankee Stadium, and suddenly it's 2017 again. As Judge puts his head down and trots around the bases, jubilatory music blasts over the public-address system and the powerful LED lights that illuminate the playing field twinkle in rhythm.

Judge's teammates swarm toward the dugout entrance to congratulate him. Gary Sanchez removes Judge's helmet for him as the slugger descends the steps and flashes the toothy grin that legendary sports cartoonist Bill Gallo would have loved. In the back of the scrum, Didi Gregorius and Torreyes make eye contact. Gregorius speaks four languages, but no words are necessary. In a flash, Torreyes is perched upon Gregorius's shoulder -- prime position to administer a high-five to his very tall friend.

***
It takes all kinds of players to win a championship. One of the great joys in sports is seeing a diverse group of athletes come together and accomplish a shared goal. Each member of the team has a different story; a unique path that led him to that moment. And each one has a different skill set that contributed to the team's success.

What every single player must have, though, is the right attitude. And what Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes lack in terms of ability to share a wardrobe, they more than make up for with a common approach to their craft.

"You've got to have a balance of fun and winning," Torreyes said, assisted by Yankees bilingual media relations coordinator Marlon Abreu. "We're playing a game, but it's serious work that we do here."

"When we come to the field, you've got to kind of flip the switch from normal, everyday [life] to, 'I'm here to do a job now,'" Judge said.

Come September, when the Yankees could very well be playing tense games with postseason implications, it might be easy to forget about some of the events that occurred in April that helped the team get into that position. But not for the players in the clubhouse who saw what Judge and Torreyes did -- the latter filling in nobly for Gregorius, who missed the first 20 games of the regular season after straining his right shoulder while playing for Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.

Torreyes collected 20 hits during that span as the team's everyday shortstop, batting .308 and knocking in 13 runs. The 24-year-old Venezuela native showed his character upon Gregorius's return, gracefully sliding back into his role as the Yankees' dependable utilityman -- capable of handling several infield positions with aplomb and ready to hit whenever called upon.

Video: BOS@NYY: Torreyes makes an impressive sliding catch

Veteran Brett Gardner calls Torreyes "one of the most important guys on our team," while third baseman Chase Headley heaps praise upon the diminutive infielder with the unwavering positive attitude.

"He's just always ready to play," Headley said. "No matter what is asked of him, he's more than willing to contribute in any way he can. He obviously came up huge for us. Didi's a big part of this team, but we didn't miss a whole lot with him out for a month, and that's pretty special. [Torreyes] is an easy guy to pull for; he's a great teammate. Whether he's playing or he's not playing, he's always involved in the game. As a teammate, that's really the best thing you can have."

For Torreyes, there is no such thing as optional batting practice. Even when BP is not required, he hits before the game. And when he's not hitting, he's doing other things to prepare himself as if he is in the starting lineup, whether that is the case or not. He picks Starlin Castro's brain about the opposing starting pitcher, or goes over defensive strategy with Gregorius. If he plays, he'll be ready.

Torreyes is often described as business-like: He takes his responsibilities as a ballplayer and as a father to his 3-year-old son, Moises, quite seriously. And there's no doubt that the economic and social crisis going on in his homeland also weighs heavily on his mind. But at the same time, he remembers that baseball is still a game.

"He's an awesome guy to be around," said Gregorius, who has known Torreyes since they were both members of the Reds organization. "He likes to play around a little bit, but he takes his job seriously. That's what it's all about -- having fun and playing the game the right way. That's him."

So when Judge arrived in August 2016 and started crushing home runs into the netting above Monument Park regularly, Gregorius didn't hesitate to initiate their unorthodox method of congratulating him.

"Everybody knows Judge is way taller," Gregorius laughs, "and every time Torreyes has to jump or whatever, so why not make it easy for him?"

***

These days, it seems there are advanced measurements for everything in baseball. Statcast™ can calculate that Judge had to race 79 feet in 4.6 seconds to make a diving catch at Tampa Bay on May 21 and that the "catch probability" of 26 percent was the lowest by any Yankees outfielder up to that point in the season. It can measure the exit velocity of the baseballs Judge obliterates, or the height at the apex of the arc to his towering home runs. But those numbers do little to illustrate the young man with one of the kindest hearts in baseball.

Hailing from the tiny farming community of Linden, Calif. (pop. 1,784), about 90 minutes east of Oakland, Judge is the courteous, respectful, inquisitive son of Patty and Wayne Judge, retired teachers who taught physical education and leadership. Their lessons about humility stuck with Aaron, whose comportment recently drew comparisons to another Yankees player who was immediately embraced in the Bronx.

"He is a little bit like Derek, to me," said Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, who won three World Series as a teammate of Derek Jeter's and another as his skipper in 2009. "He has a smile all the time and loves to play the game. You always think he is going to do the right thing on the field and off the field. You look at it, and he has a presence about him. He plays the game to win all the time, and that is the most important thing.''

After being named the American League Rookie of the Month for April, Judge was asked by a reporter to name his favorite individual accomplishment thus far. He couldn't do it. After a long pause, he simply said, "I'm going to have to get back to you on that one."

Judge has become a staple on sports highlight shows, but he doesn't limit himself to doing special things only during the game. His batting practice rounds are a show unto themselves -- the TV screen he damaged in the Frank's RedHot Terrace on May 2 certainly added to his growing legend -- yet it's his interactions with others that show his true character.

Tony Morante, the Yankees' stadium tours director who has been working at Yankee Stadium since 1958, often ushers a group of special guests -- wounded warriors or other military veterans -- onto the warning track behind home plate to watch the Yankees take batting practice. While it would be understandable for a young player such as Judge to put his head down and breeze past en route to preparing for that night's game, the "big, humble giant" as Yankees assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames calls him rarely does so, almost always coming over to introduce himself, shake hands, pose for pictures.

During these pregame hours, Judge adheres to a routine, but it does not preclude him from mingling with fans -- particularly young ones. He'll have a catch with someone in the stands between shagging flies in right field, or playfully fake toss a ball to a kid several times before delivering the prized keepsake for real. He's always done things this way, so why would he stop now?

"I just want them to have a good time, especially younger kids," Judge said. "I try to toss them a ball whenever I can, play catch with them during BP, or do something like that. Just share like a special moment with them, because I was once in their spot. I was once a little kid going to the ballpark with my parents and checking out the stadium, watching the players warm up, watching BP and all that kind of stuff. If I got a chance to interact with or play catch with one of my favorite players on the field or get a ball from somebody that I liked, it's a special moment. I just hope it's something that they'll enjoy and never forget and kind of draw them into baseball. So, anything I can do."

Like Judge, Torreyes also recognizes the impact that he can have in his role as a Big Leaguer and is passionate about growing the game. When he returns to his hometown of Libertad de Barinas during the offseason, he does much more than just sign autographs and take pictures with the local children whose parents tell them about the Yankees player from their neighborhood.

"It feels good to be loved by the people that are from your town, but I also put the time aside to do baseball clinics for these kids because it's important for them to learn the basics about baseball," said Torreyes, who grew up admiring Omar Vizquel. "If, in the future, I can contribute and inspire some of these kids to play baseball and go on to have MLB careers, it's just an honor."

That kind of perspective is rare among players as young as Torreyes and Judge, but is part of the reason why they are both universally loved in the clubhouse. Judge may garner more press with his eye-popping statistics and breathtaking home runs, yet his mindset when it comes to embracing opportunity is right in line with Torreyes's.

"I'm getting paid to play a kid's game -- it's pretty remarkable, you know?" Judge said. "For me, the most important thing about playing this game is having fun. If you're not having fun, why are you playing? So for me to get out here and to have the opportunity to wear the pinstripes, be out here at Yankee Stadium, with the type of guys we've got here, it's pretty awesome. It's really fun."

***

One can't help but smile at the image of Torreyes -- who, despite what the media guide says, admits to being just 5 foot 7 -- standing next to Judge, who is a full foot taller. Whether it was Torreyes lining up between Judge and 6-foot-8 reliever Dellin Betances on Opening Day, or Torreyes leaping to give Judge a double high-five at home plate after scoring a run, it makes for the type of photo that gets a lot of love on social media.

When approached about posing for a few shots together around Yankee Stadium before batting practice one day, both Torreyes and Judge were on board right away. They get it -- it's an amusing visual. But it's not just some silly gag. Despite their drastically different physiques and skill sets, Judge and Torreyes are integral members of the team who have developed a tight bond and mutual respect.

"Aaron Judge is a great guy and a great ballplayer, but that being said, he's also a hard worker," Torreyes said. "He's a friendly person, so from the beginning I've been able to build that kind of relationship with him because he's a guy that's serious about his job. And he's the type of person that, even when he misses an at-bat, he comes back in here and is cheering on his teammates. When I miss an at-bat, he's the first one that will tell me, 'Hey, don't worry about that one. You still got another one coming. Let's focus on that one.' So he has that type of personality, that type of leadership, that we appreciate as players."

"He's great, man. I love the guy," Judge said of the teammate affectionately known as "Toe." "After one of my first home runs, Didi picked up Torreyes and had him like high-five me or something like that, so we kind of made a little connection right there. The thing about him is, for me, it seems like he's all business. He's quiet. He comes here, does his work, goes home and relaxes. He gives 110 percent every single day, and you love having that as a teammate."

Walking through the corridors and vestibules of Yankee Stadium in full uniform hours before gates opened, Torreyes and Judge elicited more than a few double-takes. Judge exchanged pleasantries with every worker he crossed paths with, even extending a cordial salutation to those who were in such a hurry to report for duty that they barely noticed the giant in their midst.

As the writer whose idea it was to pair these two together for this story, I'm mindful of the clock as we make our way up to the Masterpass Batter's Eye Deck. The last thing I want is to disrupt their pregame routine and be the cause of a prolonged slump.

I keep expecting one of them to say that he needs to wrap things up and head back to the clubhouse. But it never happens. They genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves.

Near the area behind Monument Park where hundreds of game-day employees clock in for work during baseball season, we pass a sign that reads, "No Borrowing Uniforms." And while we don't want to push our luck, we can't resist the urge to ask whether the tallest position player in baseball and one of the shortest would be willing to pose in front of it.

Judge doesn't say a word, just kind of looks down at the ground.

Now we've done it. We went too far.

"You hate it, right? Terrible idea."

"No," he replies. "I just think it would be better if we actually swapped jerseys."

If you think a picture of Torreyes and Judge high-fiving is amusing, try keeping a straight face while Torreyes, draped in Judge's size 52 jersey that's down to his knees, helps Judge squeeze into his size 42 uniform top.

Naturally, the photos are a hit on social media and will become a talking point on television over the next couple of days. Not long after the photo shoot concludes, the two Yankees who have had each other's backs from day one return to the clubhouse still wearing each other's ill-fitting jerseys. They'll soon flip the switch to work mode -- and become even more comfortable.

Nathan Maciborski is the executive editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

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