Division Series an Upton family affair
ST. PETERSBURG -- Manny Upton and his wife, Yvonne, are on the move."I'm heading to Tampa [Monday], then I'll move on to Arizona," Manny said by phone from Chesapeake, Va., on Sunday afternoon. "My wife's been in Milwaukee, and she'll be meeting me. "We're lucky we have the flexibility to get around like this. I'm a mortgage banker, and with my laptop, I can get work done in Chesapeake, Arizona or Tampa. My wife was a schoolteacher for 25 years, teaching ninth-grade health and P.E. She earned some time." The Uptons have a couple of extraordinary sons, and the boys are bringing their parents along for the time of their lives. Justin, 24, is the budding superstar right fielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks, the surprise team of the National League. B.J., 27, is the electric center fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, the stunning entry in the American League postseason field as the wildest of Wild Cards.
Here today, gone to Tampa-St. Pete. Or Phoenix. So goes life for the Uptons as Justin's D-backs engage the Brewers in the NL Division Series and B.J.'s Rays take on the Rangers in the ALDS."They're excited," Justin said when asked about his parents. "They've watched us play since we were kids, so to see us on this stage together is really something. "I don't know how they're going to work that. It will be interesting to see how they work it out. They'll see both of us, though, for sure." The five-tool Uptons, two of the game's most exciting players, are trying to drive their teams to what would be the all-time family adventure: B.J. in one World Series dugout, Justin in the other. "It's a pretty crazy time, with the Rays getting in on the last day," Manny said. "But it's also kind of a dream come true for us. The biggest dream is to have them both in the World Series together." Hey, why not shoot for the stars? The D-backs and Rays already have stretched the boundaries of believability to the limits this season. "This is a terrific start," Manny said, "but it's hard just to make the playoffs. We saw what happened at the end of the season. "My wife and I were making plans to go see Justin, and the Rays came up and shocked everyone -- including us. Now we're making sure we see both of them." The Uptons, three years apart in age and extremely close in their brotherly bond, fulfilled their father's fondest wishes not only as big league players, but as thoughtful, considerate sons. Manny, a center fielder who also did some catching at Norfolk State University, had B.J. swinging a bat when he was 4, teaching him fundamentals. Justin didn't want to wait that long. "He started swinging a bat when he was 3, I think," Manny said, laughing with the memory. "Everything B.J. did, Justin wanted to do. B.J. pitched to him every day. Justin was so far advanced, he didn't even want to play tee-ball like B.J. did. "B.J. is more like I was physically. I was skinny back in the day -- not now, though. Justin's personality is like his mom. He's more aggressive; B.J. is more laid-back. They're both thinkers, real students of the game." Justin's breakout year was 2009, when he served notice that he was, indeed, a rare talent. Under manager Kirk Gibson, Upton fully matured this season, making his second NL All-Star team and emerging as a Most Valuable Player candidate. As Justin was blasting off into the stratosphere, B.J. seemingly leveled off, his full potential still unrealized. He's had stretches of excellence, but injuries have been a hindrance. This is almost inevitable historically for athletes with his body type playing center field on artificial turf. The elder Upton hasn't been the consistent, game-changing force his talent forecast in his 2007 breakout season. The Rays are taking it year by year with B.J., who becomes eligible for free agency after the '12 season. Justin isn't going anywhere. Following his 2009 season, when he hit .300 with 26 homers, Justin signed a six-year, $51.25 million contract that runs through '15. He'll earn $14.5 million in the final year of the second-largest contract in D-backs history. But this is not the time for in-depth career studies or speculation about the future. This is about the moment. The dual five-tool Uptons are busy trying to drive their teams to what would be the matchless family October adventure: B.J. in one World Series dugout, Justin in the other. "We'd love to face each other in the postseason," B.J. said. "That would be the ultimate. But we've got a lot of work to do to get there." Native Virginians, B.J. and Justin both were born in August. They celebrated birthdays four days apart as they grew up in Chesapeake, "Bossman Manny" schooling them along with Yvonne. The couple, pooling their talents, managed to nurture a pair of elite athletes. Known as "Bossman Junior," B.J. was the second overall pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. Justin one-upped him, going No. 1 overall three years later. Their father sees parallels in the Upton brothers and tennis' Williams sisters. "It really is very similar," Manny said. "B.J. has been for Justin what Venus was for Serena. What's made Justin, really, is that he always followed B.J. -- and he's so competitive." In 2007, after starting the season as a second baseman, B.J. moved to center following an injury and flourished, batting .300 with 24 homers and 22 steals. The following year, B.J. was a driving force in the Rays' stunning October run to the World Series. He took it up a notch on the big stage, unloading seven postseason homers and delivering 16 RBIs in 16 games while playing dazzling defense. With four hits, including three doubles, in eight at-bats against Texas, B.J. looks intent on rising to the October challenge again. "Most good athletes love to seize the moment," Manny Upton said. "B.J.'s like that. He likes competing. The biggest part is it doesn't intimidate him." While Justin is built like a running back, powerfully muscled, B.J. has a wide receiver's frame -- and grace. Both Uptons were quarterbacks in high school in Chesapeake, where their personalities, their father recalled, were evident in their running styles. "Justin would tuck it and lay a lick on somebody," Manny said. "B.J. didn't want the contact as much. He'd take what he could get and get out of bounds." As he goes about his own business, B.J. knows he has something that is beyond Justin's considerable reach. "No matter how big he gets," B.J. said, eyes aglow, smile widening, "I'm always going to be big brother."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.