In the fall of 2010, Jon Dyson was in preparation mode.
The general manager of the Anchorage Glacier Pilots was already scouting players for the 2011 Alaska Baseball League summer season.
He started making his usual contacts within West Coast college baseball programs.
Soon Dyson was having a conversation with Mike Batesole, the longtime head coach at Fresno State, who himself was a former Glacier Pilots player.
“Jon, I’ve got a guy,” Dyson said, repeating Batesole’s message to him. “He’s a special kid. You’re going to like him a lot.”
That “kid” was Aaron Judge.
Judge, already an all-star and named Rookie of the Year with the New York Yankees, has taken a monumental leap in 2022.
The colossal 6-foot-7 outfielder won the 2022 American League MVP, set the AL home run record and nearly won the AL Triple Crown.
But in fall 2010, Judge was just a teenager, embarking on his freshman season at Fresno State in California. Still, Batesole compared him to another towering right-handed hitter, former Alaska Goldpanners star and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dave Winfield.
Dyson was sold.
“Mike’s always been great to us and we certainly take him for his word,” Dyson said. “He said, ‘This guy is the next Dave Winfield.’”
A recipe for success
Judge’s experience in Alaska was already being shaped in May before he arrived for the summer.
Conrad and Cheryl Perry had been hosting Glacier Pilots players for about a decade when they picked Judge as their baseball boarder for the summer.
Conrad said selecting him initially had to do with his skill and astonishing size. Plus, Cheryl was born in Fresno, where Judge was enrolled and playing for the baseball team.
Judge had been adopted as an infant, and his parents, Patty and Wayne, were curious as to what exactly he’d be getting into in Alaska.
“It was just his smile,” Conrad Perry said of their first impression of Judge. “I mean, he’s just a super kid. Our first interaction was with his mom, Patty, and she called us up and basically interviewed us to see if we’re suitable for her son. We explained we’ve housed many kids, by that time it’d been about 10 years. So she definitely wanted to know which home her son was going to.”
While some players tend to get homesick, Judge quickly took to life in Alaska. He seemed mostly committed to baseball, he also had fun off the field.
“He enjoyed getting out and seeing things on off days and taking advantage of what Alaska has to offer,” Dyson said. “And so, you know, he always seemed to be kind of in that good mood, go with the flow and was enjoying the time up here.”
The consensus among people who knew Judge during his time in Alaska is that he left the state weighing significantly more than when he arrived.
“We say he came here at 240 and left at 265,” Conrad Perry joked.
Judge was a regular at the Alaska Club and was a bit of a showstopper among teammates who joined him in the weight room.
“He was about baseball and conditioning himself,” Glacier Pilots broadcaster Bob Barger said. “The game would get over at 9:45 p.m. or 10:30, he would go to the gym. He’d go work out.”
Judge was also a notorious chowhound, able to finish full containers of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
He even had a favorite dinner with the Perrys, a cheesy chicken and stuffing concoction that Cheryl Perry dubbed Aaron Judge’s Chicken. Judge enjoyed the dish so much that his mom requested the recipe when he returned home.
“He could polish off four chicken breasts,” she said.
The Perrys now live in Kasilof and had a cabin there at the time when they hosted Judge.
“I took him and his buddies fishing on the Kenai and it was just pissing down rain,” Conrad Perry said. “You ever try and find a rain suit for a guy that’s 6-foot-7?”
He said Judge’s rain gear ended up being more like a tarp turned poncho.
While Cheryl Perry described Judge as generally shy, he made one good friend in the family — the family’s Scottish terrier Sambo.
“She loved him,” she laughed.
“He carried her around all the time,” Conrad Perry said. “That dog was always in Aaron’s arms.”
Glimpses of amazing talent
Now known for his prodigious power, Judge very notably did not hit a home run during the summer in the ABL.
“A lot of people would look at him and just think that he’s just going to swing for the fence and be a home run guy,” Dyson said. “When it translated into games, he was very disciplined and wasn’t trying to do too much. He was really a line drive, gap-to-gap type of hitter.”
At first, that surprised Dyson. He was also league president that year, and installed an all-star game and the league’s home run derby, partially with Judge in mind.
Still, despite the lack of home runs, many league observers said it was clear there was something different about Judge.
“He didn’t crush the ball like like he’s doing nowadays,” Conrad Perry said. “I don’t think he really came alive until the College World Series Home Run Derby (in 2012). But (in Alaska), the sound of the ball hitting the sweet spot, it was different than any other player. We’ve seen a lot of good players come through here. But the sound of that bat hitting the ball was just iconic, is the best way to describe it.”
Cheryl Perry said he was in charge of the clubhouse music and, despite being reserved, was regarded as a clubhouse leader.
“Just his appearance raised the level for the other players,” Barger said. “He was a real leader without saying anything.”
It wasn’t only his offense that stood out. With the Yankees he’s developed into a sterling defensive outfielder.
“What was equally impressive was his speed,” Dyson said. “He was very agile for a big guy. A lot of times you think, you know, that frame is going to slow people down or limit their mobility, but Aaron certainly had it and could cover a lot of distance. And had just an absolute cannon of an arm.”
During the course of the season, Judge joked about putting that arm to use as a pitcher. Dyson said he finally got the chance in the final game of the season.
Although Dyson is surprised Judge has developed into a superstar, he said the overall talent was evident even back in 2011.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that I could predict exactly where he is right now,” Dyson said. “I certainly felt that the major leagues were always gonna be within reach of him, you know, certainly if he stayed healthy. But to see him blossom, where he’s at right now and to see the buzz that he’s creating for baseball, I think it’s great for the game.”
Still a ‘great kid’
Judge’s success has been a source of pride for ABL fans as he has become a major star at the major league level. A group of Glacier Pilots fans and personnel met at The Peanut Farm last Friday as Judge took his first shot at setting a new AL home run mark in a full game.
Judge eventually broke the mark on Tuesday, but Barger said there may be bigger things ahead for the Yankees slugger.
“I hope he gets into the 70s,” he said of Judge’s home run tally. “I think he’s got that capability.”
The Perrys have kept up with Judge and traveled down to Seattle in 2017 when the Yankees played the Mariners.
Judge’s parents escorted the Perrys and their son’s family down in front of the locker room where Judge came out to greet them. He was even bigger than they remembered. Cheryl Perry described it as like “standing next to a redwood.”
“He’s still the guy he was before all of this,” she said. “The success, being in New York, it hasn’t changed him. (His parents) laid a great foundation for him.”
Both ABL fans and, especially, Glacier Pilots fans have followed his career with great interest.
“To see where he’s blossomed, you know, we’re extremely proud of where he’s at,” Dyson said. “And to say that we got to know him and had him play for the team is something very special for us.”
But to the Perrys, Judge will always be the kid who spent the summer of 2011 with them, the kid who ate all of their ice cream and carted around their Scottie wherever he went.
“He’s just a great kid,” Perry said. “And so regardless of whether he made it big or not, he’s still gonna be that great kid.”