LEXINGTON — Aaron Judge stands head and shoulders above fellow Major League Baseball players. Literally. Standing 6’ 7”, Judge is one of the tallest big hitters to have played the game. The 2017 American League home run leader and New York Yankee right-field superstar also stands tall to Davidson County’s Aiden Blackwell. Nine-year-old Aiden met Judge this past baseball season fulfilling his “Make-A-Wish” wish on September 14 during a home game against the Baltimore Orioles. Make-A-Wish arranges “wish” experiences for children with life-threatening medical conditions.
“When Aiden was approached about being given a wish, he knew immediately what he wanted,” Aiden’s mom Clara Moll says. “He wanted to meet Aaron Judge.”
Aiden and his dad Keith were sitting in the Yankees’ dugout when the boy met his baseball hero. A rain shower brought the game’s warm-up session to an abrupt close, giving Aiden and Judge an unplanned period of time to become acquainted.
“When Aaron came off the field, he had to duck his head to get into the dugout,” Aiden chuckles. “He shook my hand – his hand was so huge. It was kind of crazy getting to shake Aaron Judge’s hand.”
Aiden was first diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid/idiopathic arthritis when he was two and a half years old. This disease causes chronic inflammation of the joints. He lives with persistent pain and has excruciating flair ups that have damaged his eyes and have necessitated a number of surgeries. To bring Aiden relief, his doctors keep him on a constant regimen of medications that are changed often as his body adapts to the meds and renders them ineffective. His immune system has taken a big hit also, leaving him vulnerable to everyday maladies. Even a simple cold can be devastating. Aiden is continually attending doctor appointments.
“Aiden has had a lot of bumps in the road,” Clara says, “but he is a fighter, for sure.”
Aiden is a huge baseball fan. He plays baseball, too. This past season, he completed his first year of “kid pitch." His parents and grandfather, Allen Forrest, work hard to support Aiden so he can enjoy baseball like other children his age. He has played since tee-ball, and each year Aiden has made the all-star team.
“Aiden is a natural at the plate,” Forrest says of the power slugger. “When he was small, I’d take him in the backyard and he would practice. One of the first balls he hit struck me in the head and knocked me out.” His pride in his grandson's talent is evident to all who speak with him. The two share a love of the sport.
Forrest said he has always been an Atlanta Braves baseball fan, until this year. The way he sees it, the Yankee organization went above and beyond in providing his daughter’s family and Aiden an experience of a lifetime. He says his favorite baseball player, other than Aiden, is now Aaron Judge.
“My daughter came back and told us that Judge was kind to Aiden,” Forrest says. “I called the Yankees and told them to tell Aaron that I love him – for what he did for my grandson. It still brings tears to my eyes.”
While Aiden visited with Judge, he asked the ball player to autograph a baseball he had brought. He told Judge that he was his hero. Judge signed the ball. Then he told Aiden that he was his hero and asked Aiden to autograph a baseball for him. If possible, Judge went even higher in this fan's estimation.
Judge is said to be a person who does “the right thing.” Words such as “humble”, “unselfish” and “kind” are often used to describe him. He is a self-professed Christian. The first words read on his Twitter feed is “Christian. Faith, Family and then Baseball.” He is a person of character that Aiden and other young fans can look up to.
Day to day, Aiden tries to live as normal a life as possible. He takes his pills daily, travels with his mom weekly to doctor visits, and is never sure when the next “flare up” will occur.
“I deal with it,” Aiden says about his life. “I just do what I need to do. It’s hard, but I do it – I do what I have to.”
Forrest says it is difficult for the family as they watch the disease impact so many aspects of Aiden's life. He says his wish is that he could take Aiden’s disease. “I pray that God would take it away from Aiden. I’ll take it. Give it to me. I pray it every day.”
Aiden and his mom, dad and little sister spent four days and three nights hosted by the Yankees in New York City. “The trip to see the Yankees play and spend a few days as tourists in New York City were beyond what we could have ever imagined,” Clara says. “For Aiden, it was a time to be normal. There were no doctor appointments. He could forget, if only for a few days, that he is sick."
Aiden’s family remains hopeful about the future. “In many ways, Aiden has beaten many of the odds and is able to do things others in his condition cannot,” Clara says. “God has gotten us this far. He has placed every doctor in place and when things are their worst, God is there to see us through.”
Aiden is looking forward to next season. He is disappointed that Judge and the Yankees didn’t make it to the World Series, but he says he is confident that Judge will be in front, leading the team, next year in another bid for the championship.
“I pray to God every night before I go to sleep,” Aiden says. “I pray that I’ll get better. And I thank Him that I went to New York City and met my friend Aaron.”