On rehab assignments, these two NY Yankees all-stars ‘excited’ about playing in Durham

Durham Bulls Athletic Park buzzed with excitement well before Friday night’s first pitch — and Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge had everything to do with it.

Hours ahead of the 7:05 p.m. start of the Durham Bulls’s series opener against the Scranton RailRiders, a sea of fans swarmed the stadium’s lower level to vie for the attention of the two New York Yankees all-stars on rehab assignment.

Most of the fans had been there since 5 p.m., when the stadium’s doors opened, to watch outfielders Judge and Stanton, who are both on the Yankees injured reserved list, take batting practice. In between sessions, the two temporary RailRiders indulged the crowd: talking with fans, signing baseballs, smiling for the throng of iPhone cameras fans held from afar.

They each even entertained a standoff with Wool E. Bull, the Bulls’ beloved mascot: “Yeah, he left me hanging on a high five,” Judge said with a laugh after the Bulls’s 16-3 win. “So I got to get him back tomorrow.”

Judge, who was taken by the Yankees in the first round of the 2013 MLB draft, said the crowd was great, from the time he was hitting in batting practice, to the very last out.

“I was sitting there on deck (in the ninth inning), and hearing some people say, ‘Hey drop that ball to get him one more at bat!’” Judge said. “I’m excited for this weekend. They always come out here with numbers in Durham, so I’m looking forward to it.”

New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge hits a foul ball during his second at-bat with the Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, on June 14, 2019 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, NC. Judge was playing with the RailRiders on a rehab assignment. Bryan Cereijo

Judge, who saw his first Triple-A action since straining his left oblique in April, went 0-4 on the day and struck out three times.

At this point in his recovery process, Judge said the most important thing for him is to get a diversity of reps, like seeing curveballs and fastballs, and getting used to hitting with players on base and advancing the runners.

He said his swings were pain-free, even in the few times he checked his swing: “That’s usually the real test,” he said.

With the Yankees this season, Judge has 5 home runs, 11 RBIs and a .288 batting average.

It’s unclear when Judge will return to the Yankees.

Stanton, who landed on the Yankees’ injured reserve list two and a half months ago, said his swing “feels good” and that he’s happy with his timing in the box. He has hit 305 homeruns and 772 RBIs in the major leagues since his debut in 2010. He was picked by the Florida Marlins in the second round of the 2007 MLB draft.

In Friday’s matchup, he went 1-3, his only hit coming in the form of a booming home run that hit off the Amundi Pioneer Building, which sits just outside the blue wall in left field. The outfielder exited the game in the bottom of the seventh.

He also was satisfied with his reps in the field.

“I think I had every little scenario there,” he said. “Left, right, moving into the ball, throwing to third — so it was good.”

Stanton is expected to return to rejoin the Yankees on Tuesday, according to Yankees manager Aaron Boone.

Friday marked a season-high attendance for the Bulls at 11,283 — the 10th-largest crowd in DBAP history. The largest crowd gathered in 11,897, on July 4th, 2017.

The excitement had effects beyond the ballpark, too. Per Vivid Seats, traffic to the Durham Bulls’s ticket page spiked 57 percent in the two days leading up to the series opener. The median list price for Friday’s game was $100. And by Friday afternoon, Saturday’s game had a median list price of $95. As of 1 p.m. Saturday, tickets for Saturday’s game on the Durham Bulls website were $10 each for standing room only.

For reference, the Bulls’ next home series against the Charlotte Knights in a week, individual ticket prices range from $9-$16.

The Bulls and RailRiders play next at 6:35 p.m. on Saturday, and they’ll close their series at 5:05 p.m. on Sunday. Stanton and Judge are expected to play in both games.

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Alex is an intern at The News and Observer, covering sports and however it intersects with life in the Triangle. Before that, Alex graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in May and was a three-year staffer on UNC’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.