Major League Baseball
Aaron Judge, Yankees celebrate Opening Day by blasting Giants
Major League Baseball

Aaron Judge, Yankees celebrate Opening Day by blasting Giants

Updated Mar. 31, 2023 12:51 p.m. ET

NEW YORK — Streams of Yankees fans in pinstriped No. 99 jerseys flooded the South Bronx on Thursday morning. Despite the chilly early-spring weather, only bright optimism and high expectations were emanating from the organization and its dedicated fan base. 

That anticipation and excitement for the new baseball season, largely stemming from Aaron Judge’s new long-term pact that should keep him in New York until he retires, had Yankee Stadium buzzing well before players took the field for introductions.

Though that passion and anxious energy might seem like a given for a team such as the Yankees, a perennial playoff contender, the atmosphere in and around Yankee Stadium was different, downright morose, this time last year. 

One hour before the Yankees’ first pitch of 2022, general manager Brian Cashman had just broadcasted Judge’s decision to turn down the club’s extension offer. Cashman even went so far as to disclose the club’s exact offer of seven years, $213.5 million. It was unlike the Yankees to willingly create drama by announcing such a loud and clear message at the onset of a new season. 


Cashman pitted Judge against the Yankees before the larger-than-life slugger even took his first at-bat of the year. Fans could no longer be sure that Judge would stay in New York. Later, during free agency, Judge said he didn’t appreciate Cashman making those contract details public.

The pressure, accompanied by endless questions about his future, turned to Judge. 

Aaron Boone, one year later, remembers very well what it was like to be in the manager’s office with his best player unable to reach an agreement and about to enter his walk year. A sampling of questions directed at Boone included: "How do you think it’ll be? Do you think he’ll be able to handle it? Will it be a distraction for him?" 

Judge remembers reporters "grilling" him in the Yankees press conference room on Opening Day, wondering why and how he could turn down such a fruitful offer.

Judge wanted more juice. Then he bet on himself, went out and got it. Judge homered 62 times in 2022, setting a new American League record while inflating his price. 

Eager to explore free agency for the first time, Judge sent shock waves through New York when he came exceptionally close to signing with the San Francisco Giants, his favorite childhood team. Bay Area right-hander Logan Webb was the only Giants player who was publicly upset when Judge wound up agreeing to a nine-year, $360 million contract with the Yankees.

So, as fate (or Major League Baseball schedule-makers) would have it, Judge and the Yankees hosted the Giants on Opening Day — a little more than three months after the Northern California native almost signed with San Francisco. And who was on the mound for the Giants? None other than Webb, of course.

"I don't know who at MLB did that to me," Judge quipped when asked if it was strange to be opening the season against the team with which he almost signed. 

Aaron Judge's first blast of 2023

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge sends a solo shot to center field in his first at-bat of the season.

And while so much on this Opening Day represents a new era, like the pitch clock and larger bases, one thing remained reliable. Judge is still mashing baseballs to the moon. On the second pitch he saw from Webb, a 93-mph sinker that didn’t sink enough, Judge crushed his first home run of the year in his first at-bat of the season. Only 62 to go until he breaks a new record.

"I think there's a sense of security knowing I'll be here for nine more years," Judge said.

Judge looked happier than ever in the dugout high-fiving his teammates with a relaxed and wide grin that we hadn’t seen from the new Yankees captain last season. Rather than the private attitude and buttoned-up responses we’d come to expect from Judge, he seemed looser and more comfortable in his old haunts as early as Day 1 of the young season. 

Judge said he tries not to think about what this Opening Day would be like if he had agreed to a contract with the Giants. The same could not be said for his manager. Boone said Opening Day has always been a "holiday experience" for his family. But Thursday afternoon wouldn’t have felt like much of a celebration if the Yankees’ worst-case scenario had come true this past winter. 

So the Yankees skipper reflected on what it felt like when he briefly believed Judge was no longer a Yankee

"I did tell him yesterday, especially with the Giants being in town," Boone said Thursday. "One of my lowest, darkest places this winter was, when I thought maybe it was in jeopardy that he was coming back, for whatever period of time that was, one of the darkest places I went was picturing him on that third-base line in a Giants uniform on Opening Day. And that’s something that was not good. That was not a good thought or picture."

What’s a far more superior picture for the Yankees? When Judge’s first home run of the 2023 season sailed to straightaway center field against Webb, which gave the Bronx Bombers and Gerrit Cole a 1-0 lead over the Giants in the first inning. 

Judge’s tone-setting home run "woke everyone up," Cole said. The Yankees ace then cruised to six shutout innings over 95 pitches with 11 strikeouts sprinkled in between. 

Cole's punch-out total set a franchise Opening Day record, surpassing Tim Leary’s previous mark of nine in 1991. Cole also became the first Yankees Opening Day starter to throw at least six scoreless innings since Roger Clemens in 2003. The right-hander said he was able to focus on just being efficient after Judge gave him an early lead. 

The Yankees easily dispatched the Giants 5-0 in what Boone described as a crisp game that allowed his stars, particularly the younger players, to settle in for the long season ahead. New York has high expectations of winning its first World Series since 2009 and Thursday was a dominant step in that direction. Judge’s home run underlined what this club can achieve when the reigning AL MVP is playing at windswept Yankee Stadium, firmly standing on the first-base line for introductions. 

Judge’s impact goes beyond putting up the first run and allowing his starter to loosen up. His influence on the Yankees can be seen when rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe kissed the New York logo on his jersey during the bleacher creatures’ roll call, which Volpe said was an homage to Judge. Judge’s authority can be heard when 46,172 fans in the ballpark serenaded him with MVP chants before his first-inning home run. Judge’s importance to the organization can be felt when his teammates look up to him as the captain of the Yankees. 

Judge said New York has become his family. In the end, the New York Yankees are his identity. 

"It’s hard," Judge said, "to think about being anywhere else." 

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for 3.5 seasons as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. She never misses a Rafael Nadal match, no matter what country and time zone he’s playing in. Sleep can always be sacrificed for sports. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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