The old Yankee Stadium hosted the All-Star Game festivities in the final season of its existence in 2008, with Josh Hamilton positively stealing the show and bashing one long ball after another — 28 in all, mostly into the right-field bleachers — during the opening round of the Home Run Derby in an astonishing personal performance.
(Yes, Justin Morneau actually won the crown that year, but that’s hardly what stands out about that night).
This year’s Midsummer Classic will take place in Miami — not the Bronx – but there will be a distinct pinstriped feel and Baby Bombers buzz to the annual power competition, with young sluggers and first-time All-Stars Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez confirming their participation for next Monday night at Marlins Park.
Yankee vs. Yankee.
Twenty homers in 53 games late last season for Sanchez vs. an AL-leading 27 through the first 81 games this season for Judge.
Talk about must-see TV.
Release the Kraken, everyone, and All Rise.
“I won’t watch the game, but I’ll watch the Derby,” CC Sabathia, who is scheduled to return from the DL today, gushed before Monday’s 6-3 victory over Toronto. “I don’t think anyone knows what to expect.”
With hometown masher Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and Dodgers rookie and NL HR-leader Cody Bellinger also now slated to swing for the fences, the homer contest figures to easily be the marquee attraction.
Especially now that Major League Baseball finally has ended its silly experiment of attaching home-field advantage in the World Series to whichever league wins the All-Star exhibition.
“I think it’s going to be special,” Sanchez said through a translator. “I’m pretty sure the fans are going to enjoy it. I’m pretty sure that the excitement will be through the roof. And if I don’t win, I want Judge to win.”
Added Judge: “It’s pretty incredible. We’re going to root each other on, but it’s a competition. It’s a friendly competition. That’s what’s going to make it even more enjoyable for both of us. We’re both going to be competing against each other.
“We’re going to go out there and represent the Yankees the right away and go out there and have some fun.”
It’s truly remarkable when you consider that both emerging superstars were in the minor leagues at this time last year – as was another of the Yankees’ five All-Star selections, starting pitcher Luis Severino.
While I’ve always contended it was unfair to even casually compare the new wave of Bronx stars to the exalted Core Four – at least until they win a championship or two – remember that the older homegrown players started making All-Star appearances early in their careers, as well.
Andy Pettitte was the first, named to his initial All-Star Game in 1996, his second full season with the Yanks. Mariano Rivera followed with his first of 13 trips in 1997, in his third big-league campaign. Derek Jeter made the All-Star team for the first of 14 times in 1998, also in his third year in pinstripes. And Jorge Posada made his first of five career appearances in 2000, his fourth full season with the club.
“I think it tells you how talented this group is,” said Joe Girardi, a teammate of that foursome during that championship era. “I think it tells you how hard they’ve played the first half and some of the numbers they’ve amassed. Our real hope is that we have six.”
With Dellin Betances and Starlin Castro also named — and Didi Gregorius still a possibility as part of the “Final Vote” — GM Brian Cashman and the Yanks indeed have reaped instant rewards for their turnaround on the fly after missing the playoffs in four of the previous five seasons.
Mind you, the retooled and recently banged-up team has struggled for more than a month with a 23-28 mark over a 51-game stretch after Masahiro Tanaka’s third straight encouraging outing on Monday. But their 21-9 breakout start largely has sustained them through the season’s midpoint.
“Aw man, it’s awesome. It’s been fun to watch this first half, the way they’ve carried us. Every one of them deserves it,” Sabathia said. “Judge, I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t think any of us have.”
Judge, with his gap-toothed smile, and his team-first mentality, and his “Chamber” full of fans at the Stadium, and his bevy of tape-measure blasts and exit-velocity records, clearly has emerged as the new face of the storied franchise.
To that end, he insisted no one from MLB had been pressuring him to take part in the Home Run Derby while he publicly waffled in recent weeks.
Still, you know the powers that be certainly were hoping the top vote-getter among all AL players – and the league’s potential Rookie of the Year, MVP and Triple-Crown winner – would accept their invitation.
Additionally, neither Judge nor Sanchez appear particularly concerned with messing up their respective swings by taking part, as allegedly happened to Bobby Abreu, David Wright and others in past years.
Nor should they be, and nor should the Yankees or their fans be overly fretting about that. So let’s just enjoy it.
(For the record, both Cashman and Girardi fully endorse their young stars’ participation).
“I think we’re both just going to be taking BP, take our normal swings,” Judge said. “We’re just going to go out there and try to have some fun.”
So who ya got, Yankee fans?
“Wow, we’ve got to root for two guys there,” Betances said. “Obviously, these guys put on a show on a day-to-day basis. Obviously, I’m rooting for both of them…A lot of people are going to be watching, it’s a big stage and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“Hopefully, they both get to the final round and it’ll be a battle between Sanchez and Judge. That’s must-watch TV.”