TAMPA, Fla. -- "Batting second, in right field, No. 99, Aaron Judge."
Those were the words the reigning American League MVP had been longing to hear.
"Hearing your name called for the New York Yankees never gets old, if it's in Tampa, if it's in New York," Judge said after making his spring training debut Sunday against the Atlanta Braves. "It's something I didn't want to stop hearing once I became a free agent. To hear that those words again ... it was an exciting moment."
The uncertainty of free agency in the offseason made it far from certain that Judge would ever hear those words again. But Judge, who had always hoped to remain in pinstripes for the rest of his career, went on to sign a $360 million, nine-year contract with the Yankees, the third-largest deal in major league history.
"I felt it in the intro, I felt it on defense, I felt it stepping up to the plate," Judge said of the deafening cheers. "Things like that you really cherish."
Even opposing manager and 2021 World Series champion Brian Snitker made sure to be on the field during batting practice to take a moment to introduce himself, a humbling gesture for Judge, who went 1-for-1 with a walk and a run scored in the Yankees' 7-0 win over the Braves.
"It was amazing, because I've been a fan of Brian for quite a few years," Judge said of Snitker seeking him out before the game. "Just how he's managed his Braves team, led them all the way to a World Series championship vs. some tough opponents, and the tough division that they play in. I have always loved his passion for the game, how he sticks up for his players, also manages the game the right way. To see somebody appreciate your craft, and appreciate your hard work, there's no bigger compliment."
It was Judge's first game since being named New York's first captain since Derek Jeter retired after the 2014 season. Judge, who hit .311 and tied for the major league lead with 131 RBIs in 2023, also hit 62 homers last season, surpassing Roger Maris for the AL record.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone made sure to include Judge's name in the starting lineup for the sellout crowd at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the team's spring training facility in Tampa.
"When I was checking with him the other day like, 'You're playing that first [home] game, right?' He's like, 'Oh, yeah,'" Boone said. "He loves the game. And obviously being back here, and to be able to put the uni on and go out, I think it was something he was looking forward to."
It was also the first time Judge experienced the new MLB rules in place for the 2023 season, including the use of a pitch clock. Sunday's game in Tampa lasted 2 hours and 16 minutes, well short of the spring training average in 2022, which was 3:01.
And you can count the Yankees' captain among fans of the pitch clock.
"I like it. I like it," Judge said. "I think it definitely speeds up the game. And anything to kind of keep the pitcher moving and on the go, and hopefully keep him out of breath, I'm looking forward to it. ... I think this pitch clock is going be a good thing for everybody."