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Story By John Murray

Silence swept across the usually boisterous crowd in Yankee Stadium, but it wasn’t a mediative silence of a Buddhist retreat, it was a New York silence fueled by hot dogs and beer, a reverence for history, and a wild-eyed passion by 40,157 fans to witness one of the greatest accomplishments in baseball history.

It took a once-in-a-lifetime intersection of history and passion to shut-up New York, but every time a pitch was thrown you could’ve heard a snowflake land on the infield grass.

The New York Yankees were losing 8-4 in the bottom of the 9th inning, improbably against the last place Pittsburgh Pirates. On any normal night the fans would be streaming towards the exits, but normal was getting turned on its head on September 20th. Aaron Judge was leading off the bottom of the 9th inning, and fans were delirious with anticipation.

Yankee left fielder Aaron Judge is having an historic season leading the major leagues in home runs and RBIs, and is in a virtual tie for the American League batting title, which if he won, Judge would capture the coveted Triple Crown. Photos by John Murray

As Judge took practice swings the Stadium began to vibrate. Every fan stood and most had a smart phone aimed towards Judge to document the moment. When Judge stepped into the batter’s box a thousand-foot python coiled around Yankee Stadium and squeezed the noise out of the ballpark.

It was a silence usually reserved for a 20-foot putt by Tiger Woods on the 72nd hole to win the Master’s golf tournament, certainly not inside Yankee Stadium.

Judge, the massive 6’7″, 245-pound right fielder for the Yankees was one swing away from tying Babe Ruth in crushing 60 home runs in a single-season. Only one player in Major League history had hit more “clean” home runs in a season than Babe Ruth, and that was Roger Maris, who clubbed 61 home runs, ironically, 61 years earlier for the New York Yankees.

Other players have topped 61 home runs in a season; Barry Bonds (73), Mark McGuire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66), but all three were aided by performance enhancing drugs (steroids), and their accomplishments are tainted.

I was in Yankee Stadium that night with my friend Gerry Reyes, a life-long Pirates fan, and baseball fanatic. We had circled the dates for Pittsburgh games in Yankee Stadium and had originally picked the second game in the series, Wednesday, September 21st, as the game that worked best for our kooky schedules. After securing two tickets we had a schedule mix up and Wednesday wasn’t going to work anymore, so we went back online and snagged two tickets for the first game in the series.

Catching fly balls during pre-game batting practice has been a tradition for generations.

Gerry Reyes celebrating with a fellow Pirate’s fan during the 7th inning stretch.

Suddenly I was the proud owner of four tickets, two too many. I planned to resell the tickets to the second game on the StubHub website when my daughter, Chelsea, raised her hand and said she’d love to see a Yankee’s game.

And without any advanced knowledge that those two games held historic home run implications, and having not attended a game in person since Derek Jeter’s final season in 2014, I was about two spend two glorious nights in the Bronx as a possible witness to history.

Life is like that sometimes. Other times, not so much.

Judge is a free agent at the end of the season and is most likely going to become the one of the highest paid players in Major League history.

Before coming to the plate in the bottom of the 9th inning Judge had grounded out two times, walked, and struck out. And then lightening struck. Judge crushed a ball 430 feet and tied Babe Ruth and a volcanic eruption of joy exploded inside Yankee Stadium.

Judge’s smooth easy swing unleashes astounding power that crushes baseballs.

Judge showed little emotion as he rounded the bases because despite the historic implications of the home run, the Yankees were still losing 8-5, and his team was headed to an almost certain loss.

But the blast electrified his teammates who loaded the bases with no outs and a stadium in pandemonium. Left fielder Giancarlo Stanton then clobbered a walk-off grand slam home run to lead the Yankee’s to an extraordinary come from behind 9-8 win.

Giancarlo Stanton’s grand slam home run set off a volcanic explosion of joy in the Bronx.

With Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blaring, the Yankee players poured out of the dugout and danced and hugged and waited for Stanton to touch home plate for an epic team celebration. Stanton’s homer had taken the focus off what had been a solo shot by Aaron Judge in a loss. Judge bounced up and down like a joyous toddler on Christmas morning.

Judge and Stanton making their way back to the dugout after Stanton’s home run.

Wild celebrations erupted in the streets around Yankee Stadium after the epic victory.

Neither Gerry or I had ever witnessed an historic and electric moment like this, and while Gerry kept saying, “Wow….wow…wow”, my vison was blurred by a few joyous tears streaming down my face. What a night, and I would be returning the next day with my daughter to try and catch another bolt of lightning in a bottle.

Day #2

We arrived at Yankee Stadium on September 21st three hours before the ball game to tour Yankee Stadium and visit the famous Monument Park in centerfield that housed plaques for Yankee greats; Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter and of course, Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.

I started rooting for the Yankees in 1971 when my enthusiastic next-door neighbor in Gales Ferry, Connecticut, Mike Tamer, was going bonkers over the Yankee’s Bobby Mercer who was vying for the American League batting championship. I was 14 years old and started reading the box scores every morning in the New London Day newspaper.

The Yankees weren’t very good that year, or the next four years, but I became a fan. Everything changed with free agency when the Yankees signed pitcher Catfish Hunter and slugger Reggie Jackson and suddenly they were the most exciting team in baseball.

My friends and I traveled to the Bronx several times a season to watch the Yankees; including an epic Sunday afternoon double header against the Boston Red Sox that was more memorable for the beer-fueled brawls taking place every inning, and the unique and unexpected surprise of attending a Yankee-Tiger game in June 1976 when Tiger pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych defeated the Yankees on national TV.

Throughout that game an amped-up Fidrych talked to himself, and the baseball, and became a overnight national celebrity. Unfortunately, on the way to the ballgame my friends and I smoked too much pot and were more focused on beers and hot dogs and girls than baseball, and hadn’t noticed Fidrych’s antics from our nosebleed seats. But we were there (kind of).

The Yankees won the 1977 and 1978 World Series Championships, and I vividly remember learning about the 1977 victory while backpacking through Europe with my friend Kevin Fiftal. We had no internet or cellphones back then, and we’d followed the series by reading the International Herald Tribune newspaper, which brought us the news two days late, but it was still news to us.

It was nighttime and we were walking across St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, when we stopped at a small kiosk to get a copy of the latest newspaper. The Yankees were leading the series 3-2, and when we flipped to the sports section and saw a photograph of Reggie Jackson clubbing his 3rd home run of the game to clinch the championship we screamed and yelled and danced around the cobblestoned square in a jubilant celebration of victory. We also may have just consumed a bottle of cheap wine.

An old travel journal still safeguards clippings from the International Herald Tribune.

It was a thrilling time for my generation to be a Yankee’s fan, but owner George Steinbrenner quickly doused the joy with years of bombast, ego, and the five-time hiring and firing of manager Billy Martin. Disgusted by big money and George Steinbrenner my joy of baseball dwindled for 15 years, until my daughter, Chelsea, caught the fever from a classmate at school when she was eight years old and started begging me to take her to Yankee Stadium.

Chelsea hadn’t been inside Yankee Stadium for eight years and was thrilled during our pre-game tour of the stadium and Monument Park. Me too.

Fueled by my daughter’s excitement, the joy of baseball began to return. She loved Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, and the Yankees began to win again with four world championships in the 1990s. We attended many games in New York and Boston and have enjoyed two decades of baseball banter and excitement.

Heading to a possible historic moment with my daughter made the night electric whether Aaron Judge hit a home run or not.

Neither of us had ever been to Monument Park and stopping to reflect on the great Yankee players was awe inspiring. We stopped at Mantle, DiMaggio, Maris, Jackson, Williams and Jeter. Bizarrely the biggest plaque is for the colorful and combative George Steinbrenner. It is seven feet wide and five feet high and placed smack in the center of Monument Park. When it was dedicated in 2010 Derek Jeter said, “It’s big. Probably just how The Boss wanted it. The biggest one out there.”

I cringed as I walked past.

Snagging a baseball inside Monument Park after it bounced off the Derek Jeter plaque was the highlight of my second night observing Judge’s pursuit of history.

Strangely, at one point we were the only ones inside Monument Park besides an elderly man who managed it for the Yankees. He spotted a baseball caught in the netting and spent two minutes working it down to a tiny opening. The ball popped through the hole, fell, and plunked Derek Jeter’s #2 plaque and rolled into some flowers. The man scooped it up and handed it to Chelsea saying, “You look like you need a baseball”, and then he slowly sauntered away.

The look on my daughter’s face was pure joy.

There is no more storied team in baseball that the New York Yankees, and the names on the plaques and monuments were of baseball legends.

A father-daughter moment visiting Derek Jeter’s newly installed plaque.

Afterwards, we made it to our seats along the first-base line and watched as Aaron Judge lashed a double in the first inning, struck out swinging in the 2nd inning, hit another double in the 5th inning, and with the Yankees up 6-2 in the 8th, it appeared Judge’s pursuit of history would continue into the next game.

Judge walloped two doubles and walked in the game against the Pirates on September 21st, but fans had hoped for more; perhaps two home runs…..

Thousands of cellphones documented every Judge swing, hoping to catch #61.

With a keen eye for detail, Chelsea wanted to know why Judge’s shoes were a different color than his teammates. I had no answer.

As the bottom of the 8th began, Judge was scheduled to be the 8th batter of the inning. That meant five Yankee batters had to get on base for Judge to have another at bat, and everywhere in the stadium the fans were doing the calculus in their heads.

Stunningly, the first six batters hit a home run, walked, walked, hit a double, hit a double, struck out and hit a double. Judge came to bat with a man on second and the Yankees now leading 11-2.

Would the Pirates pitch to Judge in this situation? No. With the python squeezing the noise and breath out of 47,922 fans in attendance, the Pirate pitcher walked Judge on four straight pitches.

A cascade of boos rained down on the field, Judge jogged to first base, and half the stadium headed to the exits and missed a Gleyber Torres home run two batters later that put the finishing touches on a 14-2 New York win.

As we made our way back to my truck Chelsea and I were satisfied and happy. We had our bellies filled with sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, ice cream and beer (pass the Tums please), and our heads and hearts had been filled with anticipation and joy.

The street scenes outside Yankee Stadium are almost as entertaining as the game inside.

I will always remember the bedlam inside Yankee Stadium when Judge clobbered his 60th home run to tie Babe Ruth’s record, the riot of happiness when Stanton drilled his walk off home run, and the shared experience of anticipation with my daughter the following night.

But more than anything else I will remember the hushed silence that cloaked Yankee Stadium during the nine Aaron Judge at bats I witnessed against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hitting 60 home runs is historic, but getting 47,000 New Yorkers to shut up might be an even more amazing feat.

(Editor’s note – as of Monday, September 26th, Aaron Judge is still stuck on 60 home runs. He heads north to Toronto today for a three game series where he will attempt to tie Roger Maris with his 61st home run. There are nine games left in the regular season.)