07/11/2004 7:45 PM ET
Notes: Rivals, friends, teammates
Upton, Wright get opportunity to play together again
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- They grew up together. They went to the same high school. And, in Sunday's All-Star Futures Game, they were side-by-side on USA Team.
|B.J. Upton and Mets prospect David Wright have a long history, dating back to childhood. (Scott Audette/AP)
B.J. Upton was at shortstop, David Wright was at third base.
The two players have known each other since they were 9 or 10 years old, playing AAU baseball in Chesapeake, Va. They were teammates at Hickory High School.
"We've been very fortunate. We had good baseball backgrounds. We got good coaching when we were young and I think we helped each other out along the way," Wright said.
"We work out together in the offseason, both in the weight room and the batting cage. We just push each other that much more to be the best we can."
Wright was drafted in the first round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets. He began this season with Double-A Binghamton and was leading the Eastern League in hitting at .363 when he was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk. He's at .322 there now .
Upton was a first-round pick, and the second pick overall, by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2002. This year he batted .327 for Double-A Montgomery and was moved up to Triple-A Durham. He's at .323, a point above his buddy.
They even hit alike. Wright has a total of 16 home runs this season, while Upton has 14.
Each struck out and each reached base in the Futures Game. Wright singled in the USA's 4-3 victory. Upton hit a fly ball that was missed by World Team right fielder Shin-soo Choo, allowing two runs to score. In fact, the outfielders for both teams struggled all day.
"It was tough to get a read on the ball," Upton said.
Although they've been teammates, these guys are very competitive no matter what they do.
"He grew up a Yankees fan, I grew up a Mets fan," Wright said. "Anything we can possibly compete in, we're going to be competing. If we played checkers or chess, we'd be rumbling around on the floor."
They kid each other, of course.
"He likes to run his mouth," Wright said.
"He's always talking smack to me," Upton retorted. "That's all he does when we get around each other."
Yet when they arrived at Minute Maid Park for Sunday's game, they were almost stunned into silence.
"When we first got off the bus, there was no one on the field, the lights were off. Both of us were kind of in awe. We were miked up with Major League Baseball and ESPN and they wanted us to say something," Wright said.
"But we just kind of looked at each other and gazed around. There was nothing you could really say. Our jaws dropped."
Last is first: Shortstop Aaron Hill was surprised to be asked to be a replacement on USA Team. He was the last player added. Then he was stunned to be the winner of the Larry Doby Most Valuable Player Award.
"One hit and I'm MVP," he said after his two-run double was the game-winner. "I hope I can be a MVP in the Major League All-Star Game sometime. I might get a Lexus."
Hill, who plays in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization, came in from Double-A New Hampshire.
"It's just chilling to come out and play in a big-league stadium," Hill said. "It's what every kid dreams about. They had a good crowd, too."
Hill was watching the radar gun readings early in the game.
"It was 96, 97, 98. I thought, 'Man, have fun with that,'" he said. "I got in there and finally got a changeup."
Jammed up: Right-hander Matt Cain, from the San Francisco Giants, wound up being charged with all three World Team runs. He issued two walks and gave up a double in the seventh (and final) inning.
"You can't get much worse than that," Cain said. "I got the first-pitch strikes, but I didn't do the rest."
Saving grace: With the tying run at second in the seventh, right-hander Kyle Sleeth was called in and got the final out for a save.
"First one in my life. Besides my freshman year in college, I never came into a game except for the start," he said. Sleeth is a Detroit Tigers prospect.
Local success: Clint Everts, 19, was able to pitch in his hometown of Houston. A product of Cy Falls High, he worked a perfect fourth inning with one strikeout.
"I had all my family and friends here. I've always wanted to play on this field," he said. "I never faced Double-A or Triple-A players, so I wanted to see how I'd do."
Turns out, he did pretty well for a kid who's been playing for Single-A Savannah in the Montreal Expos' system. Everts has a 6-2 record and a 2.00 ERA in 15 starts.
Doubleheader doozy: Third baseman Dallas McPherson had quite a doubleheader this season for Triple-A Salt Lake. The Anaheim Angels prospect had four homers, eight RBIs and went 6-for-7 against San Antonio.
"I think I struck out in my first at-bat," McPherson said. "Fortunately, I ended up batting with a lot of guys on base and every time I came to the plate, I got real good pitches to hit. It was a lot of fun. A lot of guys had great days out there and we won both games. That made it all worthwhile."
Goose on relieving: USA manager Goose Gossage had all starting pitchers assigned to his team. And that was fine with the former bullpen star. He believes relievers should first be starters anyway. That's the way his career began.
"I welcomed all the work. I think we baby pitchers too much. I think we're doing them a disservice by not allowing them to build their arm strength," Gossage said.
Rather than train young pitchers as closers in the minors, Gossage believes they should be starters first to build up their arms.
"I think pitch counts are way overrated," he said. "These guys now, we baby them so much they're looking over their shoulders by the fifth or sixth inning. I think you need to stretch kids out."
Astros preview: Second baseman Chris Burke was the USA's leadoff batter at a place where he hopes to be playing soon. Burke is with the host Houston Astros' Triple-A club at New Orleans.
"I'm really excited about this game," Burke said. "Last year was fun and it's just a nice opportunity to meet these guys and play a game with them. It's a great stadium and a great event."
Burke, hitting .325 for New Orleans, and first baseman Prince Fielder filled out the impressive starting infield.
Fielder, son of former slugging first baseman Cecil Fielder, has 14 homers for Huntsville, the Double-A club of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.