TAMPA, Fla. — As Aaron Judge, and then Giancarlo Stanton, bounced up the first-base dugout steps and into the bright sunshine Monday afternoon at Steinbrenner Field, they were greeted by unusual sights and sounds for a first day of full-squad workouts at spring training.
About 1,500 fans showered the two sluggers with cheers, about three dozen cameras lined the warning track to chronicle their every move. ESPN began broadcasting live when they took their turns at batting practice for the first time as Yankees teammates.
For a team with a first-time manager that is trying to wrap its arms around World Series expectations, the unmistakable center of attention was the towering sluggers.
“Which two?” deadpanned Aaron Boone, the broadcaster-turned-manager. “Look, we’ve been excited for this day for a long time just with everyone getting here, and to see those guys being in a good place physically, I’d be lying if it didn’t get the juices flowing a little bit when they walk out and share a group together.”
It was the first look at how Judge, the runner-up for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award last season, and Stanton, the reigning National League M.V.P., who arrived via a trade with the Miami Marlins, might begin to mesh.
They stretched in right field, played catch with each other to warm up, and worked in the same group of outfielders, rotating among all three positions. They also hit in the same group — along with Gary Sanchez and Jacoby Ellsbury — for batting practice against the catching coach Jason Brown.
They failed to hit many home runs. Out of the 40 pitches each saw during batting practice, Stanton hit four homers and Judge — who fouled off the first two pitches he saw — hit two, though each flashed a glimpse of their prodigious power. Stanton hit a ball off the top of the 40-foot high scoreboard in left-center field and Judge, who proclaimed himself 100 percent recovered from surgery on his left, non-throwing shoulder, whistled one over the pavilion in left field.
“Today, I was playing pepper with the cage a little bit,” Stanton said with a smile.
The fans who turned out on Monday did not seem at all disappointed that only a few balls had left the ballpark. They oohed when high flies were hit only to land softly on the outfield grass.
There has not been this type of buzz around the Yankees’ opening training camp since 2015, and that fuss was for a rather different reason — Alex Rodriguez’s return from a performance-enhancing drug suspension.
When Judge, who is listed as 6-foot-7, 282 pounds, walked toward home plate to hit, one baritone voice from the crowd bellowed: “All rise.” Judge turned and smiled sheepishly.
“It’s been a while since I heard it,” Judge said, joking that maybe the chant would start popping up when he shopped at a drugstore. “It was pretty funny, so I had to give him a little wave.”
The flash of humor was a rare one for Judge, who then assumed his usual countenance: friendly and humble, but revealing little. Stanton, meanwhile, had cut the sleeves off his warm-up top — revealing the ample biceps on his 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame. Later, he also showed off an ease in front of the cameras.
Unlike Judge, who just offered that it seemed like any other spring training opener, Stanton — who had spent his previous 10 years in the Marlins organization, readily admitted, “I’m a deer in the headlights here.”
He added: “The moment we touched the dirt they were buzzing and ready for us to get in the cage and hit. That was really cool; nothing like I’ve experienced in spring.”
Asked if it exceeded his expectations, Stanton smiled.
“No,” he said. “I left that open ended.”
Of course, there are days when the ballparks — whether in Florida for spring training or in the Bronx or on the road during the season — will be far more full to watch batting practice. The Yankees will open Steinbrenner Field an hour earlier than usual during spring training — three hours before the first pitch — so that fans can watch Judge, who hit 52 homers last season, and Stanton, who hit 59, take batting practice.
If Stephen Curry’s pregame shooting routine has become appointment viewing for fans at Golden State Warriors games, Boone suggested Judge and Stanton may well transform batting practice before Yankees games into something “sexy.”
It was that type of lure that drew so many fans to Steinbrenner Field on Monday.
“I’m hoping they get into a personal competition and try to outplay each other, like Mantle and Maris did,” said Mark DeGroot, who wore a judge’s rob and white wig while he watched batting practice with his wife, Rebecca, and their 6-year-old daughter Filamina. “This could be good for both of them.”
But the Yankees will be more than Judge and Stanton this season. Sanchez showed off his power by rattling ESPN’s set in left field with a home run, shortstop Didi Gregorius and first baseman Greg Bird appear to be burgeoning stars and the Yankees bullpen is shaping up as one of the best in baseball.
But as was clear on Monday, the bright lights will be trained on the biggest stars.
“It’s a big deal because they’re good players, but obviously they’re both kind of larger-than-life human beings — you don’t see people like them in baseball,” Bird said. “It’s good. It’s a good hype. I mean obviously there’s a lot of attention on them but it’s good for baseball, it’s good for them and it’s good for this team.”
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