Justin Morgan and his father arrived early at Rogers Centre on Monday to stake out a spot in the 200-level outfield standing-room section, hoping to catch a piece of baseball history.
Sporting a white Blue Jays jersey and with leather glove at the ready, all Morgan needed was Yankees slugger Aaron Judge to co-operate and hit his 61st home run of the season.
“We were watching all weekend hoping maybe he’d hit one more so we could have the record-breaker here,” Morgan said. “But it’s just as good to have the one that could tie Roger Maris.”
Good thing Morgan planned to return on Tuesday night. Judge was held to a single in three at-bats as the Yankees dropped a 3-2 decision to Toronto in the opener of the three-game series.
Judge has been on the cusp of tying the American League single-season home run record for a week. He’s aiming to pull even with Maris, who hit 61 homers in 1961.
“Any time the Jays are in the race through September, it’s a great atmosphere to be in,” said Pete Devcich, a longtime Yankees fan from Toronto. “When you add the Aaron Judge 61-62 chase, it just adds that extra bit of flair. It’s a treat to be here.”
Judge lashed a single to right field to open the game and came around to score on a sacrifice fly. He drew a walk in the third inning and struck out in the sixth and again in the eighth.
With two runners on in the 10th inning, Tim Mayza intentionally walked Judge to a chorus of boos from fans eager to see Judge take a few more cuts at the plate.
A hot topic of discussion among fans who took in batting practice was what they’d do if they caught the historic home run ball. Trading it with the team/player in exchange for memorabilia is a common practice but with some collectors willing to pay big bucks, it may be tempting to sell it.
Joseph Moltschanow of Mississauga, Ont., said if he were to catch it, a signed baseball and a meet-and-greet session with the baseball star would be enough.
“It’s not for me to keep,” he said from the sixth row of the 200 level. “It’s something he deserves. He’s worked hard for it.”
Morgan, from Burlington, Ont., would take some time before making a decision.
“We would hold off 24 hours and let the dust settle,” he said. “Take the best offer that came and then my Dad and I would split it 50-50.”
Specially marked baseballs were used when Judge was at the plate on Monday night. The balls were identifiable and could be easily authenticated.
If the ball is caught by a spectator, Yankees security officials would contact stadium security for discussions on the possibility and interest in having the fan return it, a team spokesman said.
Judge is also in the running for the Triple Crown, a rare feat where a player leads the league in homers, RBIs and batting average.
“The baseball fan in me respects the hell out of Aaron Judge and the year that he’s put together and how he is as a person too,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said before the game. “It would be nice to keep him on ice for a couple days. I hope we’re winning by 12 if he hits a home run.”
Some sports networks have done cut-ins to their programming in recent days whenever Judge has gone to bat. In addition to coverage on Sportsnet and the YES Network, the game was available on the MLB Network and for free on MLB.TV.
Announced attendance was 34,307 for the series opener, well short of a sellout. However, the press box and photographer bays were packed with many American media members coming north for the series.
“I think he’s a great face of the game, a representative of the game, he does so many things that you wish your best players would do,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “So I think it’s great. I think it’s more attention on our sport, more eyeballs on our sport and it’s documenting something that almost never happens.
“I think it’s important for me as I say this right now, to try to appreciate that. Really appreciate what a magical season he has put forth to this point.”
Barry Bonds set the all-time single-season record with 73 home runs in 2001.
—Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press