MIAMI — Patty and Wayne Judge watched the final public act of another stirring night for their son, Aaron, who had just won the Home Run Derby and now was discussing it late Monday night or, this being the son of Patty and Wayne Judge, deflecting praise, avoiding self-aggrandizement.
When Patty was asked what it was like to watch her son go, in the matter of a few months, from questions if he would even make the major league roster to now being the face of baseball, she grabbed my hand and asked if I was a parent. I told her, yes.
She paused, gathered herself and then said, “My eyes tell you what a parent’s pride is.”
Patty Judge was crying.
“My son’s actions tell you more about him than I can tell you about him,” she said. “I’m speechless.”
But those tears were of the loud and clear variety. About the journey and the moment, how they have melded in what Wayne Judge called “a magical ride.”
Their adopted son who they have raised since he was 1 day old keeps playing top you with not just the frequency of his homers and the distance, but how he has handled all that comes with becoming a Yankee star and a baseball star and an All-Star and, well, just a star.
Judge downplayed it — of course, he did — mentioned he was a rookie and had no stress on him in this event. But he had to win. He was the favorite. He had to come into Giancarlo Stanton’s house and win the Home Run Derby as yet more validation what he is doing is not some Kevin Maas-ish fad.
The seedings were rigged to allow the three rounds to funnel into a Stanton-Judge final — huge and huger. But the defending derby champ Stanton did not handle his business. In the media availability Monday afternoon, Stanton was peeved to again be asked so many Judge questions. And at night Stanton was eliminated in the first round by Gary Sanchez.
Stanton’s Marlins teammate, Justin Bour, was all the more impressive, crushing what to that point was a first-round-high 22 homers. It was as if Apollo Creed’s trainer showed up off a reel of Rocky to tell Judge about Bour: “He doesn’t know it’s a damn show. He thinks it’s a damn fight!”
Judge was the final contestant of the first round, began poorly, called a timeout and rallied for 23 homers in the highlight moment of the event. Judge then wiped out Cody Bellinger and Miguel Sano in the next two rounds.
“That,” Robinson Cano said of Judge, “is another level.”
There is a different quality here. Everyone hits homers in this event, but not like Judge. The theory is the balls are juiced for this event, all for better flight. But that means they are juiced for all. Yet, just one man exceeded 500 feet. Judge. Four times.
Aaron Judge celebrates with Danilo Valiente, the batting practice pitcher who helped him win the Home Run Derby.Anthony J. Causi
His homers came in all shapes and sizes, in all directions. He launched shots like the fountains at Bellagio, majestic parabolas into the upper deck in right and beyond it in left. There were line drives that seemed as likely to take down a wall as clear it. And like he was playing a game of Around The World in basketball, Judge would sprinkle the homers to left, to center, to right — a symphony of distance.
It all just raised his profile further. Judge is a reluctant star, polite and affable in the public eye, but with no flair for self-promotion. He carries a big stick and that is doing the talking for him. Thirty homers in the first half. MVP front-runner. Now, Home Run Derby champ, when even second place would have been defeat. Mike Trout is not here, Bryce Harper did not compete in the event.
Yet, Judge turned the derby into a must-watch event. Whether he wants it or not — with one long, jaw-dropping blast after another — Judge has gone from 2016 despair to the biceps and face of baseball in 2017.
It is enough to make a mother cry tears of joy.