Young Yankees fan meets hero Judge a day after viral home run ball moment

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TORONTO — Tears of joy started to flow as Derek Rodriguez walked down the steps to field level at Rogers Centre on Wednesday, a day after a clip of the nine-year-old being handed an Aaron Judge home run ball went viral.

The youngster, sporting a Yankees hat, face mask and Judge T-shirt with No. 99 on the back, watched pre-game batting practice before meeting his hero in the New York dugout.

"I asked him who his favourite player was and he turned around and showed me his little jersey," Judge said. "That still gives me goosebumps to this day."

A beaming Rodriguez was accompanied by family members and Blue Jays fan Mike Lanzillotta, who snagged the ball that Judge hit into the second deck on Tuesday. Lanzillotta handed the ball to the youngster, who was overcome with emotion.

"That’s a moment that’s been seen around the world now," Judge said. "It just speaks volumes to the Blue Jays fans they have here. It’s a cool little connection they’ve got."

Cameras captured Rodriguez, with mouth agape and eyes aglow, giving Lanzillotta a hug as the youngster broke down in tears.

"That's one of those moments that warms your heart," said Yankees manager Aaron Boone.

Rodriguez said he was "so happy" to be given the baseball, especially since it was Judge who hit the homer.

"All I can remember was I said, 'Thank you' and I hugged him," he said. "I don't remember anything else after that."

On Wednesday, Judge chatted with the boy for a few minutes in the dugout. The towering slugger signed the home run ball, gave him a pair of batting gloves and posed for pictures.

"I used to be in his position," Judge said. "That little kid, rooting on my favourite players and team. So that was a pretty cool moment that I definitely won't forget."

Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres also spoke to the boy in Spanish. Rodriguez - named after Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter - was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and his family moved to Canada about five years ago.

The youngster said he took his prized ball to school Wednesday.

"My friends and my teacher were really happy and they congratulated me," he said. "My teacher even made a presentation where she showed what happened, and people got to touch the ball. It was just amazing."

Lanzillotta said he tried to catch Judge's homer on the fly but it glanced off his hand and brushed his friend's face before falling into a hotdog tray.

He raised his arms in the air with ball in hand and then reached a few seats over to hand it to the youngster.

"That was probably one of the most memorable moments of my life," Lanzillotta said. "As soon as his hand got on that ball, it's like, 'That's it.' His eyes started watering up and he threw his arms around me."

With files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2022.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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