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New York Yankees’ rookie Aaron Judge handily rules the Home Run Derby Monday night

New York Yankees’ rookie Aaron Judge handily rules the Home Run Derby Monday night with crushing shots to precede tonight’s All-Star Game at Marlins Park in Miami    

Calm, cool and humble, the 6-foot-7 Judge had the fans on their feet as he outslugged the others by belting the ball far and away 47 times totaling 3.9miles, and clouting one .513 feet 

Arnie Leshin

By Arnie Leshin, Santa Fe Today

When the New York Yankees called him up last year, it was nervous times for Aaron Judge.

Concerned about being sent back down, he took a hotel room near Yankee Stadium, and rather than continue his dreams of playing in the major leagues, he left depressing messages on his cell phone and one was short and simple. It said .168, his batting average at the time.

Shortly after, he was sent back to triple A, hoping it would be the last time for the then-talented 24-year-old.

“I became all business after that,” he said. “I took extra batting practices, I hit on the off day, I listened to advice from others, even worked on my fielding and throwing. In September they called me up again and I felt I was more prepared.”

His message, here comes the Judge.

He got into some games as the season wound down and showed up for spring training with a different attitude. He hit home runs that traveled far, batted over .300, sparkled on defense, and made the roster of the Bronx Bombers.

Now he’s a true “Bronx Bomber”. They can’t keep him out of the starting lineup. He’s clouted 30 home runs to lead the majors at the All-Star break where he’s the starting right-fielder and brought 4.5 million votes, more than anyone else in the American League.

In June alone he belted 18 home runs, the most by any player since Yankee Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. He was on pace for 60 when he came to bat Monday night in the Home Run Derby at Marlins Park in Miami. Nothing changed. He overwhelmed the field in the All-Star game voting and dominated the Derby field in a way that no one could recall.

Batting last from the right side, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Judge handled all challenges.

He began against Marlins’ outfielder Justin Bour, no easy task after the local favorite belted 22. Judge began with a jolt, crushing the first three pitches from Yankees’ regular batting practice pitcher, Danillo Valiente, into the stands, one deeper than the other, and two landing in the upper deck of the opposite field.

Then he came up short enough times to have to respond as the four minutes allowed, driving out 13 in the final two minutes, and the 23rd with time still left. As humble as he’s described, he took a hug from Bour and waved to the crowd that numbered 37,027, the most of the campaign for a franchise that ranks lowest in attendance.

Meanwhile, the faithful Yankee fans assembled in the lower stands came prepared in their full dress — flowing black robes and white powdered wigs. Booed when he was first announced, others in the crowd now settled back to see just how good Judge is. The boos had disappeared.

Now it was a match-up against Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger, who, like Judge, is the overwhelming choice as the National League’s Rookie of the Year. He got past Bellinger, 13-12, with time still on the clock. He hit one behind the huge glass door in left-center, then another above the batter’s eye of the “home run” structure in left-center.

With two minutes to spare and on course to boom past Minnesota Twins’ outfielder Miguel Sano, he had no problem winning handily 11-10 and walking off with the title.

“It was a blast,” said Judge, who won the college home run derby in Omaha. Neb., back in 2012. “I enjoyed every minute of it, watching the other guys swing, coming to the park early, and talking to the media. Everything about today was fantastic.”

So was he. He was going opposite field. He was late on the ball and he was putting it into the upper deck. He had no trouble hitting the retractable roof of the stadium. He hit a grand total of 47 far and away, slugging one .458 deep to clinch the title. His best went .513 high over the window and way above the stands at 119 mph and rose 143 feet.

He was so good, the others, Bour, Bellinger, Sano, Marlins’ star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, Kansas City outfielder Mike Monstakas, and Yankee teammate Gary Sanchez, applauded the larger-than-life Yankee slugger time after time.

And when Sanchez eliminated defending champion Stanton and Judge ousted Bour, the home crowd switched to Judge’s corner.

There were other long shots. Stanton belted a .496 drive off the glass behind the left field seats, Bour sent one .473 feet into the upper deck in right, but it appeared that everything Judge hit was over .400 feet.

Sano said: “Amazing, that guy he just doesn’t get tired.”

The roof shot was a first for the ballpark, and was subtracted from Judge’s total. It mattered little to him. He appeared calm, cool and collected.

“I had no pressure going into it,” he said. “I’m a rookie. This is my first time doing it. For me, I have no expectations. I’m just going in there and have some fun.”

He received a hug from Joe Torre, the former Yankees’ manager who presented him with the trophy. He then posed with Valiente and Torre holding the trophy.

As super as it was, it was just another night where Judge continued his remarkable campaign that no way resembled the previous year when he left the Bronx with concerns of his future in the sport.

He has clouted damaging shots in Yankee Stadium, one breaking a TV monitor with a batting practice drive that went into the centerfield bleachers, and also dented a door cashing with a home run hit in the contest leading up to the damage he would do among the other all-stars. His best four-bagger traveled .495 feet, the best in the majors.

Tonight, he takes the field as a rising star, as winner of the Home Run Derby and as a runaway starter in the All-Star game.

An outstanding All-State basketball player in his high school days in California, basketball’s loss became baseball’s gain and the latest Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Hotels? Only on the road. Now he resides in a neat apartment in the Bronx after his marvelous turnaround.

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