With all the crassness, pride, crudity, vulgarity, arrogance and presumptuousness we see in American pop culture today, I thought it would be a good change of pace to highlight on one bright and shining exception.
It comes in the sports world – and specifically Major League Baseball.
And this notable exception comes in the form of a personality – gifted beyond belief and humble beyond comparison.
I’m talking about New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge.
If you’ve followed baseball at all in 2017, you know the name.
He’s a 25-year-old rookie who has not only outperformed all expectations this year, but has, in half a season, arguably become the face of baseball, not only because of his astonishing, unparalleled and spectacular performance on the field, but because of his gentle, loving, prayerful Christian witness.
I’m a baseball fan – been one all my life. And I’ve always been a Yankee fan. I’ve seen all the Yankee greats – like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Ron Guidry, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Mel Stottlemyre, Andy Pettitte and, of course, Derek Jeter – come and go. But, never before, have I seen a debut like that of Aaron Judge.
He leads the major leagues in home runs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage and is among the league leaders in batting average, runs scored and runs batted in. He’s a shoe-in for rookie of the year and, if the season ended today, he would undoubtedly win the most valuable player award. But he’s also a realistic contender to win the coveted and rare Triple Crown for highest batting average, most home runs and most RBIs.
But that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what he has accomplished since April of this year. He’s won the hearts and minds of baseball fans across the nation and around the world.
Aaron Judge had to battle in spring training this year for the starting position in right field. A week before the season began, he was still fighting for the opening-day job with another talented Aaron – Aaron Hicks. It was a close contest.
Now he is widely hailed as the best performer in either league – at any position.
Those who watched him win the home run derby before the All-Star Game a week ago had an opportunity to see him do what he does bet – hit balls harder, faster and further than anyone else in the game today and perhaps ever.
But, most of all, they got to see his No. 1 winning characteristic – his humility.
Aaron Judge is a giant of a man in more ways than one. Yes, he is thought to be the biggest regular position player in the history of the game at 6 feet 8 inches tall and 282 pounds of pure, contured, well-coordinated muscle. But he’s also got a big heart. He’s mature beyond his years. And, the comparison has frequently been made between Judge and the last Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, in terms of ability and character.
I watched the ESPN telecast of the last game of the recent series between the Yankees and arch-rival Boston Red Sox Sunday night. All the talk by the sportscasters was about Aaron Judge. As the game was about to begin, they went on and on about the uniqueness of his performance and his character traits.
And then the camera went to Aaron Judge, silently on his knees in prayer at his right field position before the game began.
What else can I say?
What a role model! What a guy! What a baseball player! What a cultural icon for an America very much in search of heroes.
See Judge compete in recent home-run derby:
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