Not only does Aaron Judge encourage fans to continue throwing home-run balls hit by opposing players back onto the playing field, the Yankees’ slugger even rewarded a fan for doing so over the weekend against the Angels.
I’ve always believed the recent tradition of fans doing so at Yankee Stadium and elsewhere is a colossally dumb practice, and said so on Twitter on Friday night when a female fan hurled a baseball clocked into the right-field seats by the game’s consensus best player, Mike Trout, back onto the outfield grass, rather than, say, give it to a young child nearby.
Social media being what it is, that fan reached out a few hours later, writing that Judge actually motioned to her to chuck it back. No. 99 then tossed her a different ball as a souvenir when he came out to warm up for the following inning.
“Judge tossed me a ball in the upper deck to make up for the Trout HR (#16) he encouraged me to throw back,” tweeted Erica Block, whose bio says she’s a sports journalism graduate student at Arizona State. “I get your point but the interaction felt special. I played a *very* brief game of catch with Aaron Judge!”
That, of course, is an awfully fun and memorable story, if true, and Judge smiled broadly while confirming Block’s account before Wednesday night’s game against the Astros.
“I threw one to her because sometimes I feel bad, she threw away a ball like that, especially from Mike Trout,” Judge said. “A Mike Trout home-run ball, there’s only going to be so many of those. So I just wanted to reward her and give her one back.”
Judge noted that he heard surrounding fans giving Block a hard time initially to “throw it back,” and he witnessed the toss after gesturing her to do so. “I heard the commotion and saw it, and thought I’d replace it the next inning,” Judge said. “I just felt bad for her just the way it happened, she was being pressured and gave back a home-run ball.
“She probably just came to the game to watch the Yankees and maybe a chance to get a ball. That was her one chance and she threw it away, so I figured I’d give her one.”
Judge admitted that he usually watches the stands now until the ball returns to the outfield, since he nearly was hit by a thrown ball last season and would “rather not get hit in the head or the face.”
That actually happened to Brett Gardner in a 2015 game against Toronto on a homer to left by Jose Bautista, so you’d think he’d at least be against fans engaging in such behavior, right? Wrong.
“It was kind of delayed. The next play, I was already turned around and focused on the play and I got squared up right in the back of the head,” Gardner recalled. “But I’m probably the only guy who’s gotten drilled in the back of the head and is still all for it. I really like it.
“Somebody told me, a member of the security team, that whoever it was felt terrible about it. But I’m all for it. Just don’t hit us.”
For me, one of the cool attractions of attending a professional baseball game, as compared to the other sports, is the increased possibility of leaving the yard with a game-used ball. Or, if not, as previously stated, giving it to child in the vicinity.
Still, maybe I’m just bitter that it’s something that’s never happened for me in more than four decades and probably a couple of thousand appearances at major-league ballparks as either a fan or a reporter, making it truly a never-in-a-lifetime opportunity. (My son caught a ball off the bat of the Mets’ Jose Reyes at Turner Field when he was about 10 years old, by the way).
The practice of throwing back home-run balls only was adopted a few years ago in the Bronx, but it’s been done at Chicago’s Wrigley Field since at least the late 1960s.
“It’s a nice tradition. Ever since I’ve been here anyway, they’ve always done it. So I just feel like it’s something they do and I like to see them do it,” Judge said.
“I think it’s part of the game here now, and it’s fun,” added Gardner, who also endorsed Judge’s gesture to the female fan on Friday, reasoning “that way she still gets a souvenir, but she still got her point across.”
You’d still have to wrest that ball, especially one hit by the likes of Trout, out of my cold, dead hands. But it’s hard to argue with the reward earned by at least one fan for doing so on Friday.