Yankees’ Aaron Judge showered with love in spring training debut

TAMPA — It was only a Grapefruit League game, but for the first time since an offseason that began with uncertainty about his Yankees future, Aaron Judge was back in pinstripes on Sunday.

The new Yankees captain, and the recipient of a nine-year, $360 million contract, made his spring debut in front of an adoring crowd at Steinbrenner Field and recorded a single and a walk across four innings of a 7-0 win over the Braves.

“Hearing your name get called for the New York Yankees never gets old,” Judge said. “If it’s in Tampa, if it’s in New York, that’s something I didn’t want to stop hearing once I became a free agent. I was hoping to hear those words again. It was an exciting moment.”

Coming off a historic season in which he broke Roger Maris’ American League record by hitting 62 home runs, Judge entered free agency with his hometown Giants and the Yankees as his top two suitors. The outfielder took a visit to the Giants around Thanksgiving, and even met late in the process with the Padres before the Yankees were able to reel him in during December and keep him in The Bronx long term.

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge #99, catching a fly ball hit by Atlanta Braves Sam Hilliard in the 4th inning.
Judge was showered with love by fans on Sunday.
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

New York Yankees Aaron Judge #99, after he was stranded on base in the 2nd inning.
Aaron Judge became a Yankees legend this offseason by inking a nine-year contract to stay in The Bronx.
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

The more raucous ovations are sure to come on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium — with the Giants in the visiting dugout, of course — but on Sunday, Judge got a taste of what was to come as the fans showered him with love.

“I felt it with the intros, I felt it on defense, I felt it stepping up to the plate,” he said. “It’s things like that that you really cherish at the ballpark.”

There were also audible “oohs” every time Judge took a healthy hack and swung through a pitch, as if the crowd was just expecting him to hit another home run on every swing.

The 9,776 fans in attendance had to settle for a hard infield single down the third-base line in the first inning and then a full-count walk in the second before Judge’s day ended after four innings.

But Aaron Boone knew Sunday’s exhibition would mean something a little extra to Judge when, a few days ago, the manager checked in with him to make sure he was good to go for the spring training home opener.

New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge #99, at bat in the 2nd inning.
Aaron Judge waits for a pitch during the Yankees’ spring training game against the Braves on Feb. 26.
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

“He was like, ‘Oh yeah,’ ” the manager said. “I think it’s always exciting. He loves the game and obviously being back here. To be able to put the [uniform] on and go out, I think it’s something he was looking forward to.”

Judge also got his first taste of the new rule changes coming to MLB this season — the pitch clock, restricted shifts and bigger bases — and said he was a fan. Judge appreciates playing behind pitchers who work at a quick pace, but also thinks the pitch clock can be a good thing for hitters.

“I like it,” he said. “I think you can play around with it a little bit. It definitely speeds up the game. Anything that keeps the pitcher moving and on the go and hopefully keep them out of breath, I’m looking forward to.”

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge #99, catching a fly ball hit by Atlanta Braves Sam Hilliard in the 4th inning.
Aaron Judge catches a fly ball during the Yankees’ spring training game against the Braves on Feb. 26.
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

In the first inning of Sunday’s game — which lasted 2 hours and 16 minutes — the Yankees also took advantage of the lack of extreme shifts. Gleyber Torres led off with a single up the middle that might have gone right to an infielder in past years before Judge followed with an infield single of his own.

Aaron Hicks then hit a ball through the right side that would have likely been fielded by a second baseman in shallow right field before this year. Instead, it loaded the bases for Jose Trevino, who came through with a grand slam for the quick 4-0 lead.

“I think it’s going to be great action,” Judge said. “You’re going to see some athletic plays on defense where before, that ball’s just hit right at the second baseman and he’s throwing it to second or first. I’m looking forward to it. More hits, more athletic plays, it’s just better for the game.”

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