Aaron Judge

Childhood Giants fan Judge relishes return to ‘special' Oracle Park

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Duane Kuiper let the ball travel for nearly three seconds. As it dropped into the bleachers, he said, "High and deep and gone." After a few more seconds of silence, Mike Krukow chimed in with, "And the big man beat him."

This was what Aaron Judge pictured two decades ago in his backyard, located less than two hours from Oracle Park. Except not quite. 

This was what the Giants pictured two years ago. Except not quite. 

Judge grew up listening to Kruk and Kuip call Barry Bonds moonshots and wondered what it would be like to have them do the same for one of his homers. After he hit 62 of them in 2022, the Giants tried to bring Judge home, and on Friday night he reiterated that he "was close" to signing with his hometown team. 

But Judge's first game in this ballpark came in pinstripes. He's a New York Yankee for life, and on Friday, he gave the Giants an agonizing look at what they missed out on. On his first night in the ballpark since a recruiting visit two years ago, Judge hit a pair of homers, including a three-run shot early that gave the Yankees the lead in a game they would go on to win 6-2. He later went deep to dead center, a mammoth blast on one of the coldest nights of the year. 

Krukow was referring to right-hander Jordan Hicks when Judge homered, but on this night, the big man beat all of them. And while doing so, he spent a lot of time thinking about how cool it was. 

"I think it was rounding the bases, I kind of looked out to left field, and being in those bleachers a couple of times, it just brought back some memories," he said. "It's a special place. I grew up a Giants fan. I loved coming to games out here, so (it was) pretty cool being on the opposite side and being on the field."

Judge's family and friends filled two suites for his homecoming, which was delayed five years since he had an oblique strain when the Yankees visited in 2019. He has now played four games against the Giants since choosing the Yankees, homering in three of them and blasting four overall. 

The two on Friday gave Judge 20 for the season, an extra twist of the knife given that the Giants are 20 years from their last 30-homer season and Judge looks like he again will flirt with 60. He hit 14 home runs in May, posting an OPS over 1.400 and an OBP of nearly .500. This is as close as it gets to replicating Bonds, and during batting practice -- the most anticipated one here by a visitor in years -- Judge found himself thinking of the home run champ. 

"I didn't hit any home runs in BP, so I was a little nervous," he said. "Barry and a lot of those guys back in the day made it look pretty small at times. I had a lot of fun hitting BP."

The last time Judge was at Oracle Park before BP, he dined in the Cloud Club and the Gotham Club. The Giants pulled out all the stops back in November of 2022, taking Judge out for lunch in the East Bay, where most players live. Brandon Crawford flew across the country to attend the dinner, joining Logan Webb and Rich Aurilia, one of Judge's childhood idols. The Giants even connected Judge with Steph Curry's camp, hoping they could find a tiny edge in one of the most intense bidding wars in MLB history. 

Curry was also on the suite level Friday, watching with his kids and some teammates as Judge jumped on a 3-2 splitter from Hicks and then a sinker that caught too much of the plate. Before each of the at-bats, Judge was booed, but by the end of the night most of those remaining were Yankees fans. Judge said he wasn't sure what kind of reception he would get.

"I didn't mind it," he said of the boos.  

The atmosphere felt a bit different, even for the Yankees. Manager Aaron Boone said the game "felt big." Boone also admitted that for about 24 hours during the winter of 2022, he was "uncomfortable," but ultimately he walked into Oracle Park with Judge, and that was enough.

As Judge finished off one of the best months in franchise history, he was asked to sum it all up. He paused and looked at his watch. You can't blame him for not wanting May to end, and you can't blame him for being excited about having two more games in a ballpark he came to when he was dreaming of life as a big leaguer. 

"It's not over yet," he said two hours before May turned to June. "It's not over yet."

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