WASHINGTON — Aaron Judge said it was just a collection of like-minded Yankees coincidentally conveying similar sentiments
Since Spring Training II began around July 4, players across the sport publicly expressing doubt, fear and worry about contesting a season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic became an almost daily occurrence, along with a slow but steady trickle of individuals choosing to opt out on 2020 altogether.
But none of it has happened with the Yankees.
If some players feel inconvenienced at times with the protocols in the 108-page operations manual, they haven’t said so publicly. If they’re scared about their health or the health of their families, they concede a general feeling of concern, but nothing more.
Instead, they obsess about one — and only one — thing: winning as many of the 60 games in this unprecedented season as possible.
“To be honest, it was kind of organic. It was nothing that we really discussed,” Judge told Newsday early Friday afternoon in a Zoom interview to promote his “Judge Free Pass” program that, in conjunction with Pepsi, gives fans an opportunity to win autographed memorabilia, prizes and a virtual meet-and-greet with the rightfielder by retweeting his Friday morning post on social media.
“I think everybody just kind of agreed on their own like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a pretty good team here and we’re going to do whatever we can to go out there and finish this season and do what we need to do.’ So no one’s really upset with the protocols and stuff like that. We just want to play some ball and get back out there.”
Judge and the Yankees did so officially Thursday night in their season opener against the Nationals. Showing early what Aaron Boone called “an edge,” they posted a rain-shortened 4-1 victory over the defending World Series champions.
Gerrit Cole was, well, Gerrit Cole, striking out five in five innings and allowing one run, one hit and one walk. Giancarlo Stanton (two-run homer, RBI single) and Judge (two hits, including an RBI double) led the way offensively.
“That’s kind of where it starts for us,” Judge said of the Yankees’ rotation. “And then our whole lineup up and down, we don’t really have a weak spot in our lineup.”
He referenced Gio Urshela and Tyler Wade, each of whom had a hit, a walk and a run scored Thursday from the eight and nine spots, respectively.
“We’ve got guys hitting in the eight-, nine-hole that could maybe be hitting in the middle of an order somewhere else,” Judge said. “And then all of a sudden you look at our bench and the extra guys we have on this 30-man roster that could be, like I said, a middle-of-the order player somewhere else. So I think just that depth that we saw last year that helped us win a lot of games is going to play a huge role for us down the stretch of these 60 games.”
That Judge, who signed with Pepsi in 2017, was promoting an event involving fans was not a surprise or coincidence. Since his debut on Aug. 13, 2016, the now 28-year-old has engaged with Yankee Stadium fans — and fans in opposing ballparks — in a variety of ways. Videos of him playing catch with a random young fan seated in rightfield between innings have consistently shown up on various social media platforms. Those opportunities, at the moment, are not possible.
“It was pretty crazy last night,” Judge said of no fans in the seats. “That’s one thing that I always look forward to is getting a chance to meet new fans and playing in different ballparks. And it was weird turning around and just having empty seats behind me or looking to my left and seeing empty seats and a couple of grounds crew guys.
“That was different. I definitely miss it. The [pumped-in] crowd noise, it doesn’t do the true fans out there justice. But it’s something we just have to get used to and, hopefully before the season’s over with, we’re going to have some fans in the stands, and we’ll be able to create those memories again.”