'Pigeon power' has Yankees flying high, says Aaron Judge

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

NEW YORK -- A flock of newcomers quickly swoops into Yankee Stadium and suddenly a team that wobbled all season turns into a playoff contender.

So exactly who's gotten the New York Yankees flying so high? A rookie slugger, a fresh set of pitchers?

Sure, they've helped. But maybe it's something more.

"Pigeon power ," outfielder Aaron Judge said. "They're fueling us."

OK, go ahead and laugh. Then look at the Yankees' record lately -- against the Blue Jays and Orioles, no less -- ever since dozens and dozens of pigeons began descending for picnics at the park.

Besides, if the Royals can have a Rally Mantis, the Angels a Rally Monkey and the Cardinals a Rally Squirrel, why not a good-luck flock of pigeons?

Sometimes, these birds arrive early, searching for new seeds that keep the grass so green and fresh. More than 85 of them recently roamed the yard before batting practice.

Often, they stick around for the game, hardly ruffled by the balls that go whizzing past them.

In the sixth inning last weekend against Tampa Bay, six gray pigeons lounged in medium left-center field, a half-dozen hung out in shallow center and seven others strolled in right-center. No surprise, moments later the Yankees hit back-to-back home runs to break open a scoreless game.

"They're fearless," longtime head groundskeeper Dan Cunningham said.

Speedy, too.

"I don't worry about them too much because they're pretty fast," star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury said. "They can take care of themselves."

No birds have been hit yet. Certainly nothing like that spring training episode many years ago when a fastball by Randy Johnson struck a dove in mid-flight. And they aren't pesky, like the seagulls that hover around AT&T Park late during San Francisco Giants games.

Scorned and shooed away all around town, these pigeons relax at The House That Ruth Built. Oh, and they seem to prefer day games.

When line drives get too close, they simply flap away and settle somewhere else, perhaps on the warning track in deep center or near the foul lines. Or they take off toward the scoreboard and stay there for a while, with a bird's-eye view.

"We've been watching them fly overhead, more and more of them," reliever Tommy Layne said. "You just hope they don't unload on you."

Cunningham said the birds come for the seeds that maintain the combination blue and rye grass. The stadium hosts the Yankees and the New York City FC team in Major League Soccer, making for a lot of reseeding late this summer.

Plus, players who spit sunflower seeds provide tasty snacks.

Overall, that's brought more and more feathered fans in the last month. Not that Cunningham minds.

"I'm not a pigeon hater," he said. "It's New York, they're part of the scene here."

A month ago, Judge homered in his first major league at-bat. He fits into the Yankees' wave of the future, along with Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin and the fittingly named Greg Bird.

Judge has grown accustomed to sharing his surroundings with the other birds in right field.

"Actually started noticing them maybe about a week ago. Kind of started showing up in little bunches," he said. "Started out with five or 10, now it's 20, 30, 40. Just a big bunch of them out there now."

"I go for a ball in the gap, they start flying everywhere. Could cause a little bit of havoc," he said.

Then again, pigeons have always had a place in this city.

"I don't mind them," Judge said. "A little company in the outfield."