Aaron Judge seems likely to break the AL single-season home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961 for the Yankees.
Along the way, Judge will make some noteworthy outs for the opposing pitcher. One of those instances occurred in the first inning around 3:30 pm in a sparse Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon during the first game of a doubleheader the Yankees eventually swept against the Twins.
It was the moment when Judge struck out on a changeup by Louie Varland, who was 13 pitches into the first 80 pitches of his major league career and pitching for his hometown team as a Saint Paul, Minnesota native.
As soon as Judge foul tipped the pitch into Gary Sanchez’s glove, a contingent of 23 fans sitting on the third base side of the second deck went wild. They were as vocal on the other 14 outs, including the first eight batters being retired before another emotional moment in Yankee shortstop Oswald Peraza’s first career hit in his home debut.
Very quickly it was apparent they were not just any fans, but the family and friends of Varland, the ones who enhance the already cool moments of a major league debut in any stadium whether it’s a playoff-race game in the Bronx of two teams playing out the string.
“It was unreal. It was an amazing feeling,” the 24-year-old Varland said. “I’m glad it’s over because there was a lot of anxiety.”
Although Varland wound giving up Judge’s 55th homer on the same pitch he notched his first career strikeout on, the other pitches coming out of his right hand created an enjoyable afternoon for the contingent cheering him as loudly as the family of Toronto Alek Manoah on May 27, 2021 in the sparse stands of a doubleheader.
That day Manoah became his climb to Blue Jays’ ace by throwing six innings of two-hit ball. The difference was Manoah had high expectations as a first-round pick and entered his debut with 35 innings in the minor leagues after being drafted from Big 12 (formerly Big East, formerly Atlantic 10) school West Virginia.
Varland entered his debut as a 15th-round pick out of Division II Concordia College, which has an enrollment of around 2,500 and whose baseball field is a destination of maybe one or two scouts. He entered his debut with 238 innings in the minor leagues, a figure that might have been higher if not for 2020 being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I couldn’t really feel my legs the first batter. After that first out though, things kind of went back to normal. And then after getting the first strikeout against Judge the the perfect one to do my first strikeout on so I was glad that happened.
So were his former college teammates, who were watching the game on television and cheering as loudly as Varland’s family.
Still one misplaced changeup could not damper the smile on Varland’s face and the emotions of his family, who hugged him the corridor of Yankee Stadium and then watched with pride as he conducted his first postgame interview as a major leaguer and explained his first two encounters with the MLB home run leader.
“I got him on the changeup and that’s what great hitters do,” Varland said. “I’m pretty sure he sat changeup the next at bat and then he hit it. well, It wasn’t in the perfect spot. and that’s what happened.
So as special as it was to Manoah’s family, it was equally as emotional for Varland’s parents Kim and Wade. Some four hours after their son’s first major league outing and began and shortly another emotional moment occurred with rookie Oswaldo Cabrera’s first career game-ending hit, Varland’s parents said they were napping when they found out he was getting the long-awaited call to the show, something they learned shortly after Triple-A Saint Paul manager Toby Gardenhire took the microphone of the team bus and announced the promotion to the majors for someone
“How do you describe your kid’s dream coming true before your eyes?” Kim Varland said. “What more could you want?
“It’s like watching a movie,” Kim Varland added. “We’re just floating around. We don’t care about anything else. I’m so proud of him. He deserves this so much.”
“It’s like a whirlwind,” Wade Verland said. “It seems like a simple little tidbit, but all the things are loaded behind that tidbit. It’s joyful, stressful. What do we do next
You never know how careers will pan out, but the cool moments of a major league debut are sometimes more interesting than a superstar doing the things fans expect.
Varland was the 29th man Wednesday so he will be returned to the minors. Until he returns to the Twins he can share the memories of his emotional debut in Yankee Stadium with his Triple-A teammates.
“I do think we’ll see a lot more of him though and I think we’ll have him lined up to do some things as the season goes on,” manager Rocco Baldelli said roughly eight hours after Varland’s first pitch. “So I’ll be looking forward to following him and seeing him again soon.”