September 27, 2022

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All Rise, All Cry: More tears of joy as Judge meets fan

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TORONTO — Derek Rodríguez slipped his right hand into his jacket pocket, the 9-year-old producing a Major League Baseball — the ball that rocketed off Aaron Judge’s bat and rattled around Rogers Centre’s 200 level during the sixth inning on Tuesday evening.

In a heartwarming moment that made homes and offices just a little bit dusty worldwide, the ball was handed to Rodríguez by Blue Jays fan Mike Lanzillotta, a generous gesture that brought a warm hug and sent tears streaming down the boy’s cheeks.

“I was so happy. All I can remember is I said thank you and I hugged him,” Rodríguez said. “I brought it to school; my friends and teacher congratulated me. They all wanted to hear what happened. It was just amazing.”

Rodríguez said that he considers Lanzillotta one of his best friends now, and the pair enjoyed a better vantage point at the ballpark on Wednesday — invited to watch batting practice from the field.

Judge spotted the boy and met him in the dugout; like in the viral clip, there was an embrace and quite a few watery eyes. Rodríguez and his younger brother, Cesar, also met with Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres; the Rodríguez family has lived in Toronto for five years and has roots in Venezuela, Torres’ home country.

“It’s a special moment,” Judge said. “I was excited to meet Derek and the fan who caught it. A Blue Jays fan having that moment with a young Yankees fan, that’s a moment that has been seen around the world now. It speaks volumes to the Blue Jays fans they have here. It’s a cool little connection they’ve got.”

Lanzillotta had spent the first five innings of Tuesday’s game hoping to score a souvenir for the boy seated behind him wearing Judge’s No. 99, no easy task, considering they were in the $33 (CAD) seats underneath a high-definition ribbon board.

Judge delivered, dispatching an Alek Manoah fastball into their section, a drive calculated at 427 feet. Judge asked Lanzillotta if he had caught the ball on the fly — Lanzillotta laughed, remarking the 114.9 mph missile had come to rest in their tray of hot dogs.

“Judge hit that ball right to us,” Lanzillotta said. “It couldn’t have been more perfect. I went to catch the ball and it hit off my hand; hit off my buddy’s face. I don’t know why the camera didn’t catch that part. I’ve watched every angle possible. I picked it up and the rest is history, right? That was probably one of the most memorable moments of my life.”

Blue Jays outfielder George Springer was among the many who were impressed by Lanzillotta’s gesture; Springer sent an autographed jersey across the diamond, a gift that prompted Lanzillotta to beam.

His club riding an 11-game winning streak in part because of Judge’s torrid offensive performance, Yankees manager Aaron Boone also gave the clip a look before Wednesday’s game. He, too, was touched by its wholesome quality.

“That’s tough to beat,” Boone said. “That’s one of those moments that warms your heart. One of the things that I appreciate in Major League sports is sportsmanship. When you see that from the fan bases that are battling it out; obviously two very good teams here … that was just a great moment of human beings interacting.”

There will be another chapter to come in this story. The Yankees have invited Lanzillotta, Rodríguez and their families to attend an upcoming game at Yankee Stadium, and they will be seated together in — where else? — the Judge’s Chambers.

“I asked him who his favorite player was, and he turned around to show me his little jersey,” Judge said. “That still gives me goosebumps to this day, to see little kids wearing my number, wearing my jersey. I used to be in his position, that little kid, rooting on my favorite players and teams. That was a pretty cool moment.”

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