Less than 24 hours earlier, 9-year-old Derek Rodriguez was just a New York Yankees fan watching his favorite team play the hometown Toronto Blue Jays.
Now, he’s a celebrity in two countries.
Rodriguez’s tearful display of gratitude toward a Blue Jays fan who gave him a home run ball hit by Aaron Judge in Tuesday night’s game struck a chord with baseball fans as the story quickly went viral.
“That’s a moment that’s been seen around the world now,” Judge said of the emotional exchange. “It just speaks volumes to the Blue Jays fans they have here. It’s a cool little connection they’ve got.”
Before Wednesday’s finale of the teams’ three-game series in Toronto, Rodriguez and generous Jays fan Mike Lanzillotta got a chance to meet Judge face-to-face in the Yankees dugout.
The result: Smiles, a big hug … and a few more tears.
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Once again wearing his “Judge 99” shirt, Rodriguez brought along the home run ball he took to show off at school earlier in the day.
“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.”
Judge was more than happy to autograph the ball for young Derek, who was named after Hall of Fame Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
Yankees spokesperson Jason Zillo said the Rodriguez family and Lanzillotta have been invited to bring a group of nine people each to New York later this season to watch a Yankees game from The Judge’s Chambers seats in right field.
Lanzillotta wasn’t left out of the celebration. He received a George Springer jersey from the Blue Jays for his part in the memorable moment.
Contributing: The Associated Press