They got the signage all wrong.
Maybe you’ve not been to the Other Bay Area lately. But here in Tampa, on the Avenue of the Perpetual Strip Malls, is this huge-mongous marquee with Aaron Judge’s pinstriped likeness.
“BREAKING EXPECTATIONS,” the slogan reads at the front door of George M. Steinbrenner Field, spring training home of the New York Yankees. The oversized Judge montage caught our attention while driving to another church conference that taught us more ways to not be lousy.
“That dude went to Fresno State,” I told an old friend, Jason Bonilla, a Yankees fan from the Bronx.
One problem, though.
Judge isn’t here to break expectations.
The super slugger is here to live up to any expectation you can dream up. To say he’ll break expectations is to set your expectations too low in the first place.
MVP and more
Here’s our expectations.
Home run champion. Most Valuable Player. World Series champion.
And, yes, the greatest Fresno State ballplayer to play the big-league game.
Clip this column and pull it out in October. Or take a screen shot and dump it into your Cloud account. This is the baseball season when Judge goes from former Fresno State great to Just Plain Great.
Simply put, this Judge was born to rule.
We saw it in his first big-league at bat, a home run in the Bronx on Aug. 13, 2016.
We believed it more in his first full major-league season, his 52 home runs leading the American League and establishing a rookie record for either circuit.
We lost all doubt when he took 25 home runs into the All-Star break last season, when not even a serious wrist injury could keep him from swinging the Yankees to 100 wins.
This is the year everyone believes. This is the year the Yankees win their first World Series in a decade.
This is the year Judge becomes more than a fence swinger.
Not convinced? Look up his first at-bat of the season Thursday against the Orioles.
First inning. One out. No balls, one strike looking. The pitch came inside at 94 mph. What does Judge do?
A more stubborn hitter would have turned on that pitch and pulled it, straight to any of the three infielders on the pulled side of the field in a defensive shift.
Not Judge. He turned the pitch inside out for a hard bouncer to where the second baseman used to stand for a single.
He took what baseball gave him, and trusted his teammates to pick him up. Because, Judge doesn’t have to hit home runs to be the best player in the American League.
Giancarlo Stanton singled to right, and Judge never slowed down as he slid into third base. When’s the last time you saw a 50-home run guy use his wheels for any speed beyond a trot?
Luke Voit jackhammered a three-run home run. Yankees win.
Get used to it. When Judge rises to the occasion, all the ships in the Hudson River rise with him. Judge is the answer to a franchise that hasn’t found an identity this side of the Derek Jeter/Mariano Rivera reign.
Worth our adulation
We wrote he would be the greatest ballplayer to come out of Fresno State when he hit his first home run. We typed it again two years ago, just two months into his rookie season.
We want you to get this through your skullcap, because Judge is the sort of local kid you need to enjoy. So what if you’re a Giants fan because you like winning three championships this decade, or a Dodgers fan because you hate studded rings, or an A’s fan because you loathe company.
We all had sports heroes when we were kids, back when we still knew how to be happy. Judge makes us want to be that kid again. We want to tell our kids that he went to our school, too.
So, do yourself a solid. Catch Judge and the Yankees when they visit Anaheim or San Francisco in April, or Oakland and Los Angeles in August.
Spring for Judge’s No. 99 jersey. Make him your favorite player, even if he’s not on your favorite team. Teach your kids it’s cool to have freckles and a front-tooth gap.
Judge is up to bat? Take me out the ballgame, indeed.