Leave it to New York Yankees youngsters Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, the Baby Bombers, to save the day for MLB’s Midsummer Classic.
The Yankees? Are we discussing the 27-time World Champion Bronx Bombers? Oh, OK, then.
I hate the New York Yankees.
This is an all-too-familiar sentiment. It’s only human … and natural. The most successful American professional sports organization in the world will, naturally, become loved and hated on both extremes to a level unforeseen in history. Both fans and evil wishers form lines that’ll make you local Six Flags Great Adventure blush. (Although, admittedly, that does seem like an absolute impossibility.)
Then the MLB season of 2016 happened. Gary Sanchez happened, the representative figure of the complete transformation of the Yankees organization.
From old washed up men making bookoo bucks to youthful ball players you can’t help but cheer for — this is how the Pinstripes evolved. Suddenly, the suits in the front office finally cast aside fears of empty seats in August and September and allowed Brian Cashman to do his thing, the necessary thing in this day and age of youthful baseball.
Suddenly and remarkably, it became tough to hate the Yankees.
Even the most hardened Yankee haters would admit it.
There is no $300 million man in Alex Rodriguez, the lightning-rod of a player whose discretion equaled his prowess. There is no Derek Jeter and his graceful yet powerful mystique that carries five World Series Rings and a history of lady friends along with it. There is no Roger Clemens throwing broken bats at batters in a fit of indescribable rage.
There is the aforementioned Gary Sanchez who burst onto the MLB scene a season ago with 20 home runs, 42 runs batted in while hitting at a .299 clip in just 53 games. There is Luis Severino, a kid who’s seemingly put it all together after a rocky start on the mound. There are the injury ladened youngsters like Tyler Austin, Gleyber Torres, Greg Bird and Dustin Fowler whose ugly and incredibly untimely injured forced an entire American baseball landscape to give up its heart for a 24-hour cycle.
And of course, there is Aaron Judge, the newly appointed leader of the crop who’s defied any logical explanation of stardom a year after we witness the very same thing from his catching teammate.
What’s not to like about these kids? Who could possibly be hateful?
Instead of the money-hungry players that clog up most stations on the baseball field at Yankee Stadium, these kids play and act in a way that reverses the script. They play, they love the game, and now, they’ve boosted baseball in a time of need.
Leave it up to the extremely likable Baby Bombers to save MLB’s day as it concerns the Midsummer Classic.
The MLB Home Run Derby isn’t just a throwaway event for Rob Manfred’s sport. Unlike the NBA — an organization that never fails to attract the young viewer — baseball is always up against it when it comes to attracting the young onlooker. Part of it is simply the nature of the sport — the slower, more methodical gameplay. This leads to statements such as, “Baseball is a regional sport,” despite knowing it’s still smashing attendance records on a yearly basis.
Even still, the sport falls short in the area of attracting youngsters and promoting its superstars.
The Home Run Derby can do a lot to change the narrative.
Prior to the current week getting underway, Miami’s Midsummer Classic had just one recognizable face slated to partake in the Derby and he was representing the home team. Aside from Giancarlo Stanton, there wasn’t much sizzle to look forward to. No offense to guys such as Mike Moustakas, Justin Bour or Miguel Sano, but these fellas just aren’t household names.
On Monday, a day before the Fourth of July, magic happened that had Major League Baseball smiling from shining sea to shining sea:
You've asked, he's answered. Check out which Yankee(s) are headed to Miami to participate in the HR Derby… pic.twitter.com/OoUxIaWFuo
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) July 3, 2017
In a fashion only these extremely likable and laid back youngsters can showcase, both Judge and Sanchez announced each’s participation in the Derby.
Cody Bellinger, the 21-year-old new kid on the block in the other league representing the Los Angeles Dodgers and the man who trails Judge’s Major League-leading 27 home runs by only three, followed suit to make this event exactly what baseball needed: a youthful, enthusiastic competition headed by the game’s youngest and most respected stars.
— All-Star Game (@AllStarGame) July 4, 2017
— All-Star Game (@AllStarGame) July 4, 2017
The Baby Bombers saved the day.
Much like the NBA Slam Dunk Contest (post-1980s), the game’s biggest stars decline to participate. The NBA can get away with such a crime thanks to the nature of the star-studded sport. Baseball, on the other hand, simply can’t. They need its stars on that biggest stage when nothing else is happening in the sports world.
Some of these big names have participated before. Seager and Machado are two examples (2016 and 2015, respectively). But for the Harpers and Trouts of the world, the game’s two greatest stars, declining every season is a snub directly in the face of the attempt to grow the game and have it reach new demographics. Of the two, only Harper has participated once, coming in 2013.
Perhaps Harper’s fan-friendly slogan, “Make Baseball Fun Again,” needs a tune-up … or a new marketing director, at the very least.
Think back to Yankee Stadium during the year of 2008. Think back to what Josh Hamilton accomplished when put on a show that’ll be discussed until our world ends. Though he actually lost the contest to Justin Morneau, his first round number of 28 still ranks as the one or two greatest Derby moments (Ken Griffey Jr. in Baltimore as the other).
Baseball needs this night.
And not only did Judge and Sanchez save it in 2017, they bring a reserved attitude resembling the stature of a 10-year veteran, not a bright-eyed youngster. Sanchez, while he’s still learning the ins and outs of the country, especially the English language, is always a cool customer. We already know this is his attitude at the plate, but how he deals with his staff pounds that point home to oblivion.
Judge, well, Judge … fuhgeddaboudit. The only thing more incredible than his 2017 stats — 27 home runs, 62 runs batted in, .330 batting average — is his overall attitude in every aspect of his life. He’s a throwback, a kid who’d rather blend in with the team than force the spotlight to rain down upon him. No bat flips come from the plate when Judge is in the batter’s box. No staredowns or intimidation is needed when this kid is hitting. He simply dominates with a respect for the game many haven’t seen in quite some time.
And, oh yeah, his batting practice showcase is something that is just other-worldly:
If they hadn’t already, Manfred and his henchmen need to put together the world’s greatest gift box for the kid. Unlike the Harpers and Trouts of the world, No. 99 isn’t scared of the night that so many batters fear out of second half distress.
Next week, on Monday, Jul. 10, one night before the MLB All-Star Game, baseball will finally field its first true Home Run Derby in quite some time. True simply due to the fact such a unique ball player has raised his hand and said, “Yes, I’m game.”
Baseball desperately needs this night. They needed this week to unfold the way it did.
These days, it’s difficult for those New York Yankees haters to babble on with that infamous hatred of theirs. This is how we all truly understand the narrative has changed in the Bronx.
Leave it up to the likable, attractive Baby Bombers to save the day.