Six years ago in August, I decided that I wanted to get one more Yankee game in that summer before heading back to college for the start of my junior year. Looking at my calendar, I saw that there was only one day where I was free that the team was in the Bronx: August 12th. I bought the tickets, eager to see the Yankees take on the Tampa Bay Rays, and intrigued by the giveaway: a replica of the 1996 championship trophy, celebrating the team that sparked a dynasty just months after I was born.
Three days later, the Yankees made a stunning announcement — longtime third baseman Alex Rodriguez would be playing his final game as a member of the New York Yankees on August 12th. Without meaning to, I stumbled into the chance to see history, and while I ended up missing Aaron Judge’s major league debut by a day, I will never forget watching one of the greatest players of my childhood walk off the field for the last time.
A few weeks ago, after attending a brutal Yankees loss in the middle of their horrific August, I decided that I wanted to go to at least one more game. Looking at the calendar, there was just one day in September that this teacher had free: Saturday, September 24th, against the Boston Red Sox.
I had no way of knowing. At the time, Aaron Judge had 46 home runs, and nobody else in the lineup showed even a hint of life at the plate. 60 seemed in reach, but on like October 5th or 6th; it was going to happen in Texas, most likely, in the four-game set against the Rangers to end the season.
And then Aaron Judge hit nine home runs in 14 games — in the metaphorical blink of an eye, 46 became 55. A pair of two-homer games later, plus a comeback-sparking bomb on Tuesday, and suddenly, 60 wasn’t just a dream, it was real. And now, again, I stumble into the chance to see history.
History is my life. During the mornings, I teach history, and in the afternoons, Latin, a language consigned to history. I spend my days pondering things I’ve never seen, places I’ve never visited, people I’ve never met (and will never have the chance of meeting). Here at Pinstripe Alley, I’ve written my fair share of history pieces, investigating among other things New York’s pre-baseball rivalry with Boston, the evolution of the bat and ball games that evolved into the sport we know and love, and the backdoor dealings that led to the league organization we tolerate. History is one of the pillars that makes up “John Griffin,” along with baseball, Villanova basketball, and theatre.
And yet, faced with the prospect of seeing history this afternoon, I can’t help but fumble over my words trying to put my thoughts into prose. Like all of you, I’ve heard about the Yankees legends my entire life, listened to tales about Ron Guidry’s 18-strikeout masterpiece, Babe Ruth’s called shot, Lou Gehrig’s incredible streak, and of course, Roger Maris’ and Mickey Mantle’s chase for 61. Of course, I have counted myself lucky that I had a chance to see many all-time greats that have donned the pinstripes, from Hall of Famers who cameo’d in the Bronx at the ends of their careers like Ichiro Suzuki to the greatest relief pitcher to ever walk the Earth, Mariano Rivera, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see some epic games in person. But this ... this is different. This time, it’s personal.
The 2013 draft in which the Yankees took Aaron Judge was the first MLB Draft that I really paid attention to. Up until that point, minor leaguers really didn’t become “real” to me until they were in Triple-A and were on the verge of being called up. While I had gone to some minor league games, they seemed so far from the majors, too far to really think about. And yet, faced with the knowledge that the Yankees had three first-round picks and were, in truth, a terrible team for the first time in my lifetime, I followed the draft, booting up the school computers after exams to see the latest updates. And their second first-round pick, an outfielder built like Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins outfielder who hit 37 home runs the year prior, looked exciting. And so, Judge became the first player I truly followed from the moment the Yankees drafted him until he became a major league star.
And, if Roger Maris and Babe Ruth are smiling down upon us today, the first player I followed from the time he was drafted until the time he made history.