Most Yankees fans know by now that breakout star Aaron Judge also was a highly recruited football player while attending high school in northern California, garnering interest from top programs such as UCLA, Stanford, Notre Dame and Michigan State.
Judge offered a couple of baseball-related glimpses into his former gridiron prowess in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Oakland at the Stadium.
The massive outfielder hauled in a tip-play grab from one teammate, Starlin Castro, for a rare assisted catch in the sixth inning. He then also got into a big-body collision with another sizable Yankee, first baseman Chris Carter, while making a catch in foul territory one inning later.
“Yeah, football, that kind of reminded me of that a little bit,” Judge said with a broad smile after the game. “I was just glad I was able to be there and make the plays.”
The first play came in the sixth after Oakland had evened the score against CC Sabathia, when Castro ran with his back to the infield into short right field in pursuit of Trevor Plouffe’s popup. The ball bounced off the second baseman’s glove only to be snared by the charging Judge for a rarely seen 4-9 scorecard putout.
“Just a great play,” Joe Girardi said. “Again, to keep your focus on the ball, your eye on the ball and your eye on the fielder to make sure you don’t run into Castro in that situation, that’s just a great play.”
Judge noted that it was “the first time” he’d ever made such a grab as an outfielder, before jokingly adding that the Yankees worked on that play “a couple of times out on Field 3” during spring training.
Still, Girardi and others immediately flashed back to a dangerous collision between the same two fielders last weekend in Tampa.
“It wasn’t the same because he was not really that close. But we’ve talked about this, I’m just going to go run for the ball in that situation,” Castro said. “That’s the game, my job is to go out hard and run for the ball, and when he calls the ball, get out of the way. If I don’t hear him, my job is to go catch the ball.
“So I just tried to make that play, and for him to catch that ball, that’s a great play.”
An actual collision would come one inning later, when Carter and Judge converged on Chad Pinder’s popup in foul territory down the right-field line. Judge made the catch, despite what he described as Carter’s “big forearm” catching him across the face, knocking off the outfielder’s hat and glasses.
“I was more worried about Carter than Judge,” Girardi said. “It was a good thing Castro stayed out of the way this time. Carter, I asked him on the mound where he got hit, the chest? And he said I don’t even know.”
Carter, who is listed as 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, admitted he isn’t smaller than too many baseball players.
As we’ve learned over the past two months, however, the 6-foot-7, 280-pound Judge isn’t a typical baseball teammate.
“I don’t know, I think he got me my whole left side, but I’m OK,” Carter said. “As long as we’re both OK, that’s all that matters, and that we got the out. Anyone colliding like that is always scary, but I’m just glad we’re both OK.”