The 2022 New York Yankees have assured fans since Opening Day that they’re different, unwilling to settle for in-season accomplishments and progress until their ultimate goal of a World Series has been achieved.
That assurance has created a different vibe and a tingle in the Bronx during what could’ve otherwise been a season crammed with uncomfortable realities: namely, that de facto captain Aaron Judge isn’t under contract beyond this year.
Judge’s contract has lingered over this season ever since Brian Cashman went public with the Yankees’ offer a few hours before Opening Day, but to the team’s credit, the specter hasn’t seemed to affect them whatsoever. Even as Judge was chasing 62 home runs late in the season while watching Baltimore Orioles’ sliders land in the other batter’s box, the group stayed focused.
Perhaps the team’s increased level of respect and admiration for their slugger has helped calcify obvious improvements in chemistry, morale and faith that things will eventually work out.
According to a Players’ Tribune piece published on Thursday ahead of what was supposed to be his ALDS Game 2 start, breakout hurler Nestor Cortes made it clear that this special and different team has respect for Judge embedded in everything they do.
Yankees’ Nestor Cortes tells Players Tribune about Aaron Judge ritual
As Cortes relayed to The Players’ Tribune, the team goes as Judge goes, in more ways than one:
"I feel so fortunate to be around guys like Aaron, and Rizzo, and Cole, and Sevy, and just on and on. This group, I’m telling you … it’s special. We care so much about one another. Let me give you a quick example. So when we’re on the road, and we finish up that last game of a series and we’re packing up to leave? A lot of the players, myself included, we won’t leave the clubhouse until Aaron leaves. No one says anything. We don’t make a big deal of it. But it’s just like … that’s our guy. It’s a respect thing."
If I were Aaron Judge, I’d wait around extra long next time after the game ended just to test my teammates’ wills. How far are you willing to take this unspoken code? Will you sleep here like a commuter who missed his connecting flight to Detroit?
But that, among many reasons, is why I’m not Aaron Judge.
Cortes’ stories paint a Yankees team that is both loose when it has every right to be — before the game when Cuban coffee is being doled out, after the game in someone’s hotel room — and laser focused on becoming the latest in a long line of historic squads.
No one knows if this will be “the year” or not. The Houston Astros might be at their most fearsome, and the Seattle Mariners showed no intention of letting the Yankees off the hook with their Game 1 blundering. The Cleveland Guardians are not a pushover. The National League is packed with playoff pedigree, too.
But no Yankee is walking out that door until Judge does (well, except Aroldis Chapman). And, if you’re the hope-having type, this article will make you believe this October could stretch the distance, and that Judge’s teammates won’t let him permanently walk out that door until his career is wrapped, many years down the line.