Judge rings NYSE bell, brings family to Bronx

December 7th, 2016

NEW YORK -- Back home in little Linden, Calif. (pop. 1,784), the Cherry Capital of the World, they are trying to figure out how to combat floating water weeds on the vital tributary that reaches far inland to that farming community from the Pacific Ocean.

That ongoing challenge seemed literally a world away from the bustling trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where Linden's own and his parents, Wayne and Patricia, found themselves among autograph-seekers on Wednesday morning.

They immersed themselves in the Big Apple for the past few days, from The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall to this excursion to the nation's financial epicenter, where the Yankees' No. 4 prospect, as ranked by MLBPipeline.com, helped his performance-equipment sponsor, Under Armour, and Major League Baseball ring the Opening Bell. It is partly his town now, and maybe moreso in months and years ahead.

"We came up a couple days early and kind of checked out the city," Judge said. "During the season, we're working, so you don't really get a chance. The past couple days we checked out the city and I'm glad my parents are here for it.

"Especially here [at the NYSE], where there are a lot of Yankee fans. That's been great so far. I've been meeting people, and saying hi, and it's just getting me excited for next year."

Next season, the 6-foot-7 slugger could be the Yankees' starting right fielder. A week ago, Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees' managing general partner, discussed how "emotional" he had been over Judge's homer in his first Major League plate appearance in 2016, and said he is counting on Judge to assume the right field role.

Steinbrenner said Judge will enter 2017 with something to prove after hitting .179 (15-for-84) with 42 strikeouts in his first 27 Major League games.

"He's got some work to do. He knows that," Steinbrenner said in the first part of a two-part interview with YES Network. "We're going to figure out exactly what we think is wrong. My expectations are he's going to be my starting right fielder this year. That's a big deal and a big opportunity. I know he's going to make the most of it."

When the Judges were asked at the NYSE about those expectations, they made it clear that nothing changes with their approach. The Judges have a special kind of Linden small-town work ethic that drives it all, like growing the perfect cherries.

"Knowing him, it doesn't change a thing," Wayne Judge said in the middle of the NYSE floor, watching as his son was greeted by traders who look forward to new possibilities. "He knows he's got to go out and do what he needs to do to be successful. He just knows the Good Lord put him out there for a reason and he'll take care of everything."

"Going into Spring Training, everyone's fighting for a job, so I'm going to be doing the same thing," Aaron said. "No one's job is guaranteed. So I'm going to try to go out there and win the job and get ready for the year."

Judge hit a total of 23 homers in 2016 -- 19 in 93 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and four in 27 games with the Yankees. But his OPS in Triple-A was .854, which then dropped to .608 in the Majors. He had three extra-base hits in his first three games after the callup, then three the remainder of the season.

But hitting big league pitchers is like killing those invasive water weeds back home. There is nothing to do but get it done, whatever it takes.

Judge is driven by his own personal desire to reach his potential that made him the Yankees' first-round selection in the 2013 MLB Draft. That day, he was here in New York with his parents as well, taking the tour as one of several prospects hosted by MLB.

He remembers going to Yankee Stadium that day, and peeking at the big leaguers' clubhouse lockers, browsing Monument Park, touring the city on a bus, wanting this moment. Now, it is back to the workouts in Arizona, with added emphasis on flexibility.

"I'm just working out every day, hitting every day," Judge said. "I'm kind of fine-tuning the craft a little bit, staying in shape and getting ready for the year. It's a long season, so you've got to be in shape. This is when you really work. The results that show up in October and November, that comes from what you do here in the fall and the winter."

Yes, Aaron Judge said the word "November." The young Yankees think like that, too.

"I've got a little bit of an idea how they're going to pitch to me," he said. "I've gotten used to the environment. Playing at Yankee Stadium every night is pretty amazing. So I'm just going to take a couple of those things I've learned and put them into the next year."

He walked around the NYSE in a suit and black size-17 street shoes, possibly the largest of any Under Armour athlete (Steph Curry is 6-foot-3, with more normal-size shoes). This is his third year in the stable of some 400 UA baseball athletes.

"What an experience. I've only seen this in movies," Judge said. "Getting the chance to be here and getting to be up there when they ring the bell is such an honor."

"It's a very proud moment," Patricia Judge said. "Baseball has brought us so many interesting things. We're just really excited to be a part of this really exciting career."