NEW YORK -- A young guy in a blue blazer who works for the Yankees, "Mike" on his nametag, stood behind the first section of seats behind home plate at Yankee Stadium late Tuesday afternoon. The Yankees had just finished batting practice, and now Mike was pointing to a spot in the outfield that is already a part of the legend of Aaron Judge, because of a ball Judge hit out there in batting practice a month ago.
The spot was above Monument Park and to the left of it as you looked out from where we were standing behind the plate, an opening to a terrace on the left-field side of center field.
"That's where he broke the TV," Mike said.
There are some flat-screen television sets out there, in a terrace bar. It is estimated that you have to hit a baseball nearly 500 feet to get to the terrace. Aaron Judge did that. And now they are talking about some batting-practice homers Judge hit in Toronto last weekend when the Yankees were there. Judge, who just passed Mike Trout in All-Star voting, is the Yankees' 6-foot-7, 282-pound right fielder everybody in baseball is talking about, and not just because of what he can do in BP. It has only taken one-third of a season for him to become one of the sport's big stories, in all ways, a home run kid who makes everybody stop and watch every time he steps into the batter's box, from batting practice on. For now, and maybe for a long time, everything about Judge is big, including his number, 99.
"Matt Holliday is a big man," John Smoltz was saying before the Yankees-Red Sox game on Tuesday night. "Just not when he stands next to Judge."
This was about five hours before the last moments of the first game of the current Yankees-Red Sox series, and the most dramatic: Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox's closer against Judge with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Boston ahead, 5-4. Kimbrel ended up getting Judge instead of Judge getting him, striking him out on three fastballs to end the game. Kimbrel beat him, Red Sox beat the Yankees, got a little closer to first place. Still, the game didn't end until the guy who is the most unhittable closer in baseball these days had to go through Judge, who continues to be the most exciting Yankees home run kid since Mickey Mantle.
There is always the chance with Judge, because of size and strength and bat speed and exit velocity and an ability to hit balls out of sight, that he might bust a television screen, the way kids in the yard have always busted windows with batted balls.
Now, Judge has more All-Star votes than anybody in his league. It makes All-Star voters the same as Yankees fans: They want to see him hit. They even want to see him chase fly balls into the right-field wall, the way he did Tuesday night, or go into the stands the way he did when he and the Yankees went into Fenway Park. As much as any young player the Yankees have had in a while -- and that includes the team's catcher, Gary Sanchez (who hit all those home runs at the end of last season) -- Judge is somebody to see. People like comparing him to Paul Bunyan which, as Bob Costas pointed out on the MLB Network on Tuesday night, is completely appropriate, not just because of his size, but also because Bunyan's sidekick did happen to be, well, a blue ox named Babe.
Doesn't mean this will last, or that pitchers won't find holes in Judge's swing. You worry sometimes watching him throw himself around in the outfield the way he does and wonder, as odd as this might sound, if his is a baseball body -- big and strong as he is -- that's built to last. For now, though, Judge continues to be exactly what the Yankees need: a star of the big city. He is a young star after a time at Yankee Stadium when the biggest attractions were retirement tours from aging stars like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
On top of all that, Judge has grace and manners out of another time, not just in baseball, but all sports. At a time when the noise levels continue to rise in sports, Judge is quiet and polite. Costas joked the other night that he sat down for a 10- or 11-minute interview with Judge and might have asked 15 questions.
"He calls me 'Mr. Cone,'" David Cone, now a Yankees broadcaster, said, and then Cone was talking about the batting-practice show Judge put on at Rogers Centre, describing a couple of balls that really did try to break windows at the Renaissance Toronto, the hotel that is part of the facility there and, famously, has views of the ballpark.
"He hits baseballs where you're not supposed to hit baseballs," Cone said.
"People are recognizing what the kid is doing," Yankee manager Joe Girardi said at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. "People are saying, 'I want to see this kid.'"
When told about how Judge now had more votes than Trout or anybody else in the American League, Girardi laughed and said, "Tell them to keep voting." (You can do that right here, by the way.) Then Girardi was happily talking a little more about "a defensive end who also dives into the stands or into the ground for the ball." In the spring, Girardi said that if Judge could just cut down on his strikeouts, it would be almost impossible for him not to hit 30 home runs and get to 100 RBIs. If the kid keeps hitting like this all year, both those numbers might turn out to be low.
Through 55 games, Judge's batting average is .330. He's got 18 home runs, 41 RBIs, a 1.116 OPS, a .683 slugging percentage and a .433 on-base percentage. He is not just big cuts and "big fly" home runs. On Tuesday night against the Red Sox, first time up, Judge was able to take a very good pitch from Drew Pomeranz, Boston's starter, into right field. Even on a night when Joe Kelly and Kimbrel would get him later with fastballs, Judge came away with two more hits. Two nights later, he collected three base knocks, including the hardest hit ball of the season so far.
Of course, there have been other Yankees home run kids since Mantle. Sanchez was one just last season. There was a time in the 1990s when Shane Spencer showed up at the old Stadium in September '98, joining one of the greatest Yankees teams of them all, and proceeded to hit eight homers in 14 games, including three grand slams. A shooting September star if there ever was one, with an OPS of his own over 1.000. Spencer hit a home run his first time up in the playoffs against the Texas Rangers before fading, and eventually playing out his career in places that were not New York City.
Now here comes Aaron Judge, looking like the real thing, busting out of the gate this way, busting TV screens, trying to bust windows in Toronto. Becoming a breakout star. The young guy at the Stadium, Mike, laughed and said they left the hole in that TV screen up above Monument Park as "a souvenir." Won't be the last Judge hits out there. Probably won't be the longest. In all ways, sky might be the limit for this kid.