By Joe Pantorno
A vengeful Aaron Judge confirmed that he feels good and ready to go for Opening Day Thursday night when the Yankees are in D.C. to take on the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals.
“I’m ready to go,” Judge told reports via Zoom on Tuesday. “I’m feeling good physically and mentally. Thinking a lot about the way last year ended — it’s motivation. I tell the guys don’t forget that feeling. Don’t forget that emptiness! I tell the guys to use it as fuel!”
Rather than wait five months following the Yankees’ heartbreaking loss to the Houston Astros in the ALCS last season, Judge and his teammates have had to stew on Jose Altuve’s series-winning, walk-off home run for nine months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It was the second time in three years that the Yankees fell to the Astros in the ALCS — though Houston has developed into the villains of Major League Baseball after its well-documented cheating scandal that came out over the winter.
“We can almost taste it. We’re about to get the appetizer before the main course,” he said. “We’re all excited here. It’s been a long road, a long journey to get here to Opening Day.”
That extra time, however, allowed Judge to return to full health after dealing with an undiagnosed broken rib suffered in September.
After getting past it, though, there was one more hurdle in the form of a stiff neck that saw him miss a few days of camp last week. Any notion that he was ailing was dispelled behind a powerful display in the Yankees’ exhibition schedule, which included two home runs against the crosstown-rival Mets on Sunday.
“It was like I woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” Judge said. “It wasn’t 100%, but that’s cleared up and I’m ready to go.”
Judge and the Yankees will be hoping for a full season of production, something that has been rare in recent seasons. The 28-year-old missed 60 games last season due to injury and an additional 50 in 2018.
His presence makes an imposing Yankees lineup that much more threatening, especially in a short sprint of a 60-game schedule in 2020.
While his health and the upcoming season were the main topic of conversation, Judge also weighed in on members of the San Francisco Giants — including new manager, Gabe Kapler — kneeling for the national anthem as a sign of peaceful protest against police brutality and systemic racism across the country.
“That’s the beauty of America,” Judge said. “It’s freedom of speech and freedom to express yourself.”
“We have a special platform as athletes… Whatever message we give out here is that we want to express unity, we’re all in this together, and try to have those uncomfortable conversations.”