By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Having already blasted past Joe DiMaggio New York Yankees towering new wave slugger Aaron Judge will next look to rule the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game at the upcoming Midsummer classic in Miami.
Baseball fans have long held a fascination with the soaring home run and the mighty men who hit them.
It is a love affair launched by Yankees the great Babe Ruth, whose towering drives changed the game forever and brought him the nickname of the Sultan of Swat.
They love Judge too, making him the top vote-getter in fan balloting with nearly 4.5 million for the American League All-Star team that will play on Tuesday.
He entered Sunday’s last games of the first half of the season leading the majors in home runs (30), runs scored (75) and on-base percentage (.449), while batting .330.
With his 30th home run launched against the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, Judge surpassed “Joltin Joe” DiMaggio for the Bronx Bombers’ rookie record for homers in a season.
The great DiMaggio took 138 games in his 1936 rookie season to set that mark. Judge zipped by him in his 82nd game.
The 6-foot-7 (2.01 m), 282-pound (128 kg) Judge, a surprisingly athletic, agile, speedy all-round force on the diamond, is on an ultra-fast track to stardom mirroring the exit velocity of one of his booming blasts, two of which have literally dented Yankee Stadium walls.
Craig Counsell, manager of the National League Central-leading Brewers, saw the 25-year-old Judge at work for the first time in person during their weekend series in the Bronx.
“He’s unlike anything we’ve really seen in the game,” Counsell told Reuters from the visitors’ dugout at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. “It’s fun to see that.
“The thing I’ve been impressed with, he’s got a very good baseball swing for a man that big, for a kid that big. That’s what’s impressive to me.”
As impressive as his towering drives and laser-beam liners have been, his calm, humble demeanor has also won him praise.
Fast becoming a leader on the team, Judge has been likened by club manager Joe Girardi to the most recent Mr. Yankee – retired captain Derek Jeter.
Girardi said Judge’s overtaking DiMaggio was jaw-dropping.
“That’s a pretty special name he passed. It’s really incredible what he’s done in the first half,” said Girardi.
Adopted as a newborn by teachers Patty and Wayne Judge in rural California some 90 miles from the San Francisco Bay Area, Judge grew to become a dominant athlete, shining as a football wide receiver and an All-State center on the high school basketball team.
The Yankees scooped up MLB’s 2017 sensation in the first round of the 2013 draft with the 32nd overall pick out of Fresno State University.
Now the celebrated slugger has his own team-sponsored cheering section in the right-field stands behind his defensive spot — an 18-seat, three-row area dubbed “The Judge’s Chambers,” where 18 fans are selected to sit each game and given judges’ robes, wigs and foam gavels to play their part.
Frank Thomas, another impressively built slugger of his day who was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2014, warned that Judge would likely be given little to hit in the second half by pitchers afraid to challenge him.
Judge shrugged off how that might affect his personal statistics.
“If they want to pitch around me, that’s fine,” he said. “We’ve got a great lineup. If I’m getting on base four times because of a walk, that’s perfect.”
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Steve Keating.)