It’s been an incredible week so far for nine-year-old Yankees fan Derek Rodriguez: He watched his favorite baseball player, Aaron Judge, hit a home run; a Blue Jays fan grabbed the ball and gave it to Derek; then the judge signed the ball in person.
“I still can’t believe it,” Derek said Tuesday night, shortly after meeting Judge and shedding a few tears of joy. “It’s so amazing.”
Derek’s incredible ride began Tuesday night when he and his father, Cesar Rodriguez, came to the Rogers Center in Toronto to watch the Toronto Blue Jays take on the New York Yankees.
Both father and son, who live in Toronto, are big Yankees fans. Cesar Rodriguez said he got hooked on the team in 1996 when Hall of Famer Derek Jeter became the starting shortstop.
“When I saw him play – Derek Jeter – I [said]”Oh my God, he’s my favorite player right now, and he’ll be my team forever,” Rodriguez said. “That’s why my kid’s name is Derek, because [of] Derek Jeter.”
Despite his namesake, Derek’s idol is Judge, who is currently considered one of baseball’s best players. Derek came to the game wearing a judge’s jersey, and it caught the eye of Blue Jays fan Michael Lanzillotta, who was sitting nearby.
“I immediately noticed this boy and his dad in Yankees gear and said, ‘Okay, here we go. The Yankees fans are behind us,'” he said.
But any animosity he felt was quickly fading. In fact, when Lanzillotta learned that Derek was desperate to catch a ball during the game, he decided to help out because he knew what it would mean for a young fan.
When Lanzillotta was 12, his grandfather held his legs up so he could reach out and catch a foul ball during a Blue Jays game in the mid-1990s.
“Growing up as a Jays fan is what you want. It’s what you live for when you go to a game,” said Lanzillotta, who lives in Newmarket. “I turned to the kid and said, ‘Listen, we’re going to get you a ball no matter what. “”
Watch | A Blue Jays fan gives Yankees fans a home run in a heartwarming moment:
Somehow the stars aligned and Lanzillotta was able to deliver on his word. When the judge hit a home run, the ball flew into the stands where the two Lanzillotta and Derek were seated. Lanzillotta grabbed the ball and passed it to Derek without hesitation.
“Instinct just kicked in and I turned to the kid and said, ‘Here you go, mate,'” Lanzillotta said. “He wrapped his arms around me, and I just got an overwhelming sense of joy and elation.”
Derek, of course, was also thrilled.
“It was like a rollercoaster of emotions,” he said. “I couldn’t hold back my tears and I just started crying [tears] of happiness.”
Derek meets his Yankees idol
Derek thought his week couldn’t get any better – until it did.
He and his dad also had tickets to the Jays-Yankees game on Wednesday night, so they went to batting practice before the game to see if Judge could sign Derek’s ball.
The judge gladly agreed and took the time to chat with Derek in the dugout – even giving him a pair of batting gloves.
“It was really exciting,” Derek said. “He was really nice.”
The feeling was mutual, according to the judge.
“I asked him who his favorite player was and he turned around and showed me his little shirt. It still gives me goosebumps to this day seeing little kids wearing my number,” he said. -he declares. “So a pretty cool moment that I definitely won’t forget.”
Derek plans to keep his precious ball nearby as a constant reminder.
“I’m going to keep it in my room and not take it out,” he said.