Who else? Judge hits first home run of 2023

March 30th, 2023

NEW YORK -- There were familiar chants of "M-V-P!" as strode toward home plate in the first inning on Opening Day, digging his right cleat across the dirt of the batter’s box as he prepared for his first official at-bat since being named the 16th captain in Yankees franchise history.

It took all of two pitches for Judge to pick up where he left off. Having eclipsed Roger Maris’ single-season American League record with 62 home runs last year, Judge belted the Majors’ first of 2023, powering a Logan Webb sinker over the center-field wall at Yankee Stadium as the Yankees cruised to a 5-0 win over the Giants on Thursday.

“You really don’t hear much when you hit it and you’re running the bases,” Judge said. “But once I hit home [plate] and saw my family there, the roar of the crowd, my teammates -- that’s when you soak it in a little bit.”

Judge’s drive came off the bat at an exit velocity of 109.3 mph and traveled a Statcast-projected 422 feet. It also came against the Giants, one of the clubs that attempted to sign Judge this past offseason.

“That’s about as tough a guy as you’re going to do it against, right on right,” said manager Aaron Boone. “Webb is going to keep you in the ballpark. To get a ball up like that and hit it out on a cold day to dead center … especially after the offseason, signing back and [being named] captain, for him to get us rolling was very fitting.”

San Francisco had extended a nine-year, $360 million proposal to Judge’s representatives, an offer that prompted Judge and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to engage in a late-night international phone call that effectively secured the same terms to keep Judge in pinstripes.

Judge acknowledged that, as the Yankees stood along the first-base line during pregame introductions on Thursday, he briefly pondered his place in an alternate universe. A product of Linden, Calif., about 75 miles east of San Francisco, Judge grew up rooting for the Giants -- though, as he said, his parents, Patty and Wayne, would never have permitted him to skip school and attend a home opener.

“I’ve got two teachers as parents,” Judge said. “There were no sick notes on that one.”

In November, Judge toured Oracle Park, inspecting the Giants’ home clubhouse and their batting cage facilities. He attempted to picture himself sitting in one of their cushy black recliners, much like the one Barry Bonds (or perhaps infielder Rich Aurilia, Judge’s favorite player of that era) might have used.

And, well -- he just couldn’t.

“I didn’t want to go anywhere,” Judge said. “I was pretty vocal about that in the beginning. You’ve got to go through the free-agency process, but all in all, this is where I want to be. I’m happy I’m here.”

So are the Yankees. Thursday’s homer provided an immediate cushion for Gerrit Cole, who struck out 11 -- an Opening Day franchise record -- over six scoreless innings.

“It was a tone-setter for us,” Cole said. “He came up, woke everybody up and showed us that he was here to play.”

Added Gleyber Torres, who later hit a two-run homer: “I expect that. I’m not surprised. I feel happy. I hope he’s back to what he did last year. That would be the best for us.”

Boone acknowledged that he had briefly considered the possibility of Judge dressed in Giants orange and black for this Opening Day.

“I did tell him yesterday, especially with the Giants being in town, one of my lowest, darkest places this winter was when I thought it was in jeopardy that he was coming back,” Boone said. “Picturing him on the third-base line in a Giants uniform on Opening Day, that was not a good thought.

“I am thrilled that he’s here where he belongs, as the captain of this team, where he’s going to finish an amazing career. He’s everything you could want in a great player, a great leader and a captain. I’m just grateful that I get to continue to be his manager.”

Judge struck out in his next two at-bats against Webb, then lifted a soft broken-bat flare facing John Brebbia in the seventh inning that fell for a run-scoring hit.

Considering how differently it could have all turned out, Judge said he would exit Yankee Stadium satisfied with an opener that couldn’t have gone much better.

“Very few people get a chance to be in an Opening Day lineup for the New York Yankees,” Judge said. “Getting a chance to do it for the past couple years, and the next nine years hopefully, it’s something special. I’m just trying not to waste a moment.”