Young Yanks ready for first MLB Opening Day
Judge, Sanchez, Bird among 5 Bombers breaking camp with club for 1st time
ST. PETERSBURG -- Even with his future up in the air, Aaron Judge was playing it cool, saying that he would play hard wherever the Yankees decided to send him. Once his assignment as the Opening Day right fielder was confirmed, though, Judge couldn't wait to dial a familiar phone number.
"I called my parents, just letting them know," Judge said. "They were worrying about it, just like any parent would. They just wanted to know what was going on, so I just called them and let them know, 'Hey, I'll be in Tampa on Opening Day.' They're excited, and they're just ready for this journey."
Wayne and Patricia Judge are making the trip from Linden, Calif., to share in their son's accomplishment. They will be among what is expected to be a sellout crowd at Tropicana Field on Sunday, witnessing the official beginning of the 2017 Major League season.
"Everyone is starting off with a clean slate and it's kind of unknown," Judge said. "You don't know what is going to happen. You don't know what to expect. That's kind of what makes this team great: the unknown. You don't know how good we can be."
Judge, New York's No. 4 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, is one of five players on the Yanks' active roster who will be participating in their first big league Opening Day. Catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman Greg Bird and relievers Jonathan Holder and Bryan Mitchell may be experiencing some of the same jitters.
"I feel very excited," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "I just want tomorrow to get here and start playing."
Sanchez said that he recalled watching a few pitches of the Yanks' opener last season, but that was bittersweet because he was sitting in the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre clubhouse after having been favored to win the backup catcher job in Spring Training.
"It wasn't difficult, because the focus was shifted to Triple-A and that's where I was," Sanchez said. "That's where I needed to focus on."
Besides, Bird and Mitchell would have gladly traded places with Sanchez. Bird was stashed in Tampa, Fla., unable to do much other than sit and watch while recovering from surgery to repair his right shoulder labrum.
"Rehab, you can kind of go two ways with it," Bird said. "It was tough and there were days that I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be playing."
Perhaps even more difficult to swallow, Mitchell had been told that he made the 2016 Opening Day roster, but that chance was stripped away when he sustained a left great toe tear in his final appearance of the spring.
"I actually had surgery on Opening Day last year. This is definitely better," Mitchell said. "It's rewarding in a sense. I was pretty much just trying to pick up where I left off last year, missing the whole year. I was just happy to get back at the end last year."
Holder won a bullpen spot after posting a 2.92 ERA in 10 spring appearances, striking out nine against two walks. He said that his first call was to his wife, Nicole, who joined the team in Atlanta for Friday's exhibition game at SunTrust Park.
"I called my wife first and then of course my parents. My wife was super excited and so were my parents," Holder said. "It's just exciting to get the season going. Camp's over with. The emotions are about to start flowing."