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On family baseball memories and appreciating every game

A random ticket purchase led to my family witnessing the start of an All-Star career.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

It was 95 degrees with high humidity on an August day in 2016. My family had innocently bought tickets months prior for a Saturday Yankees game. Fully understanding what the weather could be like in mid-August in the Bronx, we strategically chose the shady side of the field for a 1 p.m. start. We were a few rows from the top of the 400-level section, halfway down the first baseline.

What my family didn’t realize is that we would stumble upon history that day.

The day prior, A-Rod played in his final game and was subsequently cut. It was an abrupt end to a career, with news of his Yankee tenure coming to a close hitting the media just a week prior. The Yankees were trading away their best bullpen arms, cutting older players, and pivoting to a youth movement. All of this was coming to a head on the day we were supposed to attend a ballgame. While the Yankees weren’t playing well overall, there certainly was a sense that we had bought tickets too late in the season; that my family had missed our window to see some of the better names on the Yankees at the time, wondering what the lineup would even look like that day.

The next morning we packed the cooler and headed to the train. I cannot understate how hot it was. One of those days when the air is thick, like walking through soup, and a thin haze fills the sky. You try everything in your power to keep from sweating but it was a lost cause. The walk from the train to the stadium resembled a herd of cattle slowly inching their way to shady reprieve. People were scooping up waters and Gatorades from street vendors to take the edge off — treating a few minute walk like a cross-country trek — which was warranted. It was an “I’m stuck to my seat” type of day.

The Yankees happened to be honoring the 1996 World Series team that day for the 20th anniversary. It was a fun and low-key ode to the past and all the big names were in attendance. You can imagine the conundrum my brain was going through. That era was over, and so was the one that followed it, as evidenced by the A-rod situation the night prior. As the players walked in through the center field entrance, you couldn’t help but wonder what was coming next for the Yankees.

But with sports, there is always an opportunity for something special to happen, even when you least expect it.

Some kid named Aaron Judge was in that lineup that day. An unexpected callup when it was believed that only one roster spot would be available and that it would go to Tyler Austin. The skepticism about the type of game we would be attending quickly turned to curiosity and excitement. After watching an aging team for much of the season, you certainly felt a jolt looking at that lineup card. Looking back, that day ushered in a new era for the Yankees. And while it hasn’t worked out exactly how Yankees fans hoped, for Judge, it was an emphatic start to a superstar’s career. Luckily for my family, we happened upon greatness that day.

Judge’s first home run is still so engrained in my mind for two reasons. First, the sound of the bat echoed throughout the stadium like nothing I had ever heard before and second, the sureness I had about the home run going out from so high up in the stadium. A lot of times from that angle you can be fooled about how far a ball is traveling, but immediately off the bat it was gone.

Because of the weather, there was a sacristy of people in the upper deck, making the moment with my family feel a lot more personal. We didn’t grasp the magnitude of what was happening that day, nor could we have predicted what Judge would become, but were more excited that we witnessed something fun together.

Looking back, it was a once-in-a-lifetime sports moment that I’m glad remains vivid in my mind. It lets me know I was fully present in the moment. Maybe the holiday season has me feeling sentimental, but we should cherish every game we get to experience with family and friends. You never know when a moment will create a lifelong memory.