Here Comes the (Aaron) Judge
How ‘bout some good news today? Like a story about a humble, likeable and rising baseball star.As a lifelong New York Mets fan, it kind of pains me to say this, but the athlete who has taken the Big Apple by storm is wearing black pinstripes, not blue ones.His name is Aaron Judge, and almost every piece you read about him not only tells readers about how extraordinary Judge is on the field, but also how extraordinary he is off the field.You can probably guess where this story is heading, but first let me tell you about Aaron Judge the player.Judge is a big deal. I mean that literally. At 6’7” and 280 pounds, he may be the largest man to ever play in the big leagues. As ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian told his ESPN colleague Tony Kornheiser, Judge fills the entire door opening when he passes through it.Of course, none of this would matter if Judge weren’t good at baseball, and one-third of the way through his rookie season, he has been good, historically-good. In May, he became the first player to hit 13 home runs in his first twenty-five games.As of this recording, he leads the American League in home runs, is third in runs batted in, and is second in slugging percentage. When you combine his offense with his fielding, he’s been, by most estimates, the second-most valuable player in the American League.This kind of production on the field is part of the reason Judge and the Yankees are the talk of the town while my Mets are making headlines for having their mascot, Mr. Met, make an obscene gesture at the fans.The other part is Judge’s character. It’s difficult to read a profile of the Yankees outfielder without coming across words like “humble” and “unselfish.” Former big leaguer and now baseball analyst Eduardo Perez told MLB Radio that he was impressed by Judge’s humility and kindness.His manager, Joe Girardi, paid him the ultimate compliment when he said “He is a little bit like [Yankee legend Derek] Jeter for me . . . He has a smile all the time. He loves to play the game. You always think he is going to do the right thing on the field and off the field.”Words like “humble,” “unselfish,” and “do the right thing” raise the specter of what my friend Terry Mattingly calls a “religion ghost.” They should prompt the question “why is Judge humble and unselfish?”For the answer, look no further than Judge’s Twitter feed. The first words you read are “Christian. Faith, Family, then Baseball.” Scroll down a few tweets and you will read, “Happy Easter to Everyone. He is Risen!”The nexus between Judge’s faith and family is apparent when you read what he has to say about his parents. He says “I’m blessed.” “My parents are amazing, they’ve taught me so many lessons . . . I honestly can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me.’’“What they’ve done” began with adopting him when he was two days old. “I feel they kind of picked me . . . I feel that God was the one that matched us together.’’Crushing baseballs, Christian faith, and adoption—not all the news is bad. There are things in our culture that are worth celebrating. You just have to know where to look, and, in my case, overlook the color of the pinstripes.