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'I'm Aaron, pleased to meet you': Yankees star Judge bids to raise baseball's global profile

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London (AFP)

As the New York Yankees' brightest star and one of the faces of Major League Baseball, Aaron Judge is used to attention and adoration wherever he goes in the United States.

But in London, where Judge is preparing to play in the Yankees' ground-breaking games against the Boston Red Sox this weekend, the slugger can walk down any street largely unnoticed.

Soccer-obsessed England has never shown much interest in baseball, which is why MLB chiefs have brought the sport to the UK for the first time in a bid to raise awareness and potentially tap into a lucrative market exploited by the NFL over the last decade.

Judge, who stands out from any crowd at a towering 6ft 7ins, broke the record for home runs by a rookie in a single season in 2017 and has gone on to become one of baseball's best and most popular players.

The 27-year-old has featured prominently in baseball's promotion of Saturday and Sunday's regular-season games between the Yankees and Red Sox at West Ham's London Stadium -- the first time the sport has ever been played in Europe.

But, on a sight-seeing trip around the English capital on Thursday, Judge found out just how far baseball has to go before his sport's stars are as recognisable in the UK as Premier League icons like Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Raheem Sterling.

Two London residents wearing baseball caps with the Yankees' famous NY logo walked past Judge oblivious to his presence, prompting the gregarious star to introduce himself.

"Obviously the Yankee brand is popular across the world but I was near the London Eye and there were a couple of people wearing the Yankee cap. They had no idea who I was," Judge told reporters on Friday.

"I said 'I'm Aaron, pleased to meet you!' I'll have to start introducing myself to more people.

"A couple of Red Sox fans did come up to me though! Even here. They were very respectful."

- Milestone moment -

Despite that culture shock, Judge has enjoyed his time in London so far and insists it is a privilege to be part of a milestone moment for baseball.

"To be in the first game in Europe is something special. We are exciting to see what the stadium looks like packed out and the fans chanting," he said.

"I've watched a lot of NFL and NBA games on TV in London. I've been a little jealous, been waiting for MLB to do this.

"I'm just excited and blessed that the Yankees and Red Sox can be part of it. It's something to remember. We'll put on a good show for the fans.

"It's growing our game. I'm enjoying it. Any chance we get a chance to spread the word of baseball is a special moment. It's a game I've loved all my life."

Although Judge isn't a household name in the UK yet, he takes pride in his role as a trailblazer for the sport.

"It's humbling, something I never even dreamed of as a kid. To get a chance to play a big game on this stage in London. To see a fan wearing my jersey, it's something I can't even describe," he said.

Judge's equivalent for star power on the Red Sox is Mookie Betts, who emerged as one of their key players during last season's run to the World Series title.

Betts won the American League MVP award in 2018 and, like Judge, the 26-year-old is proud to be leading the way in baseball's attempt to become a more global game.

"I'm definitely excited to play here, being the first games," he said.

"It means a lot knowing we are ambassadors. It's a great game to play.

"I glad to play in a country that hasn't seen that. We can spread the culture."

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