Ladies and Gentleman, Welcome to the B J Upton Show!
Oh many times do we go to baseball games wanting to see something we have never seen before? You know see that event that will be discussed by us to our grand kids or even friends hundreds of times until it gets so boring people know by the first words out o your mouth and either runs for the hills or sit patiently hoping the story gets shorter this time.
Well, we had just one of those moments last night. and for 12 seasons players have gotten close, they have gotten within a cats whisker of it before, but not until last night can a Tampa bay Rays player hold this special event in baseball close to his chest forever. Sure we have had Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett and even Ben Zobrist get close in 2009, but the one guy who needed something like this more than anyone on this roster gets his name permanently in Rays lore now.
And how glorious it was that B J Upton, the Bossman Junior himself stood on first base and did not know if he should step off the base and acknowledge the crowd, or wait a bit until finally tipping his batting helmet towards the stands. The guy that has been run over by the Rays bus numerous times during 2009 by the media, by the fans and by a teammate is now in the spotlight for an amazing feat, and he still looks nervous and unsure. But, you have to admit, if anyone on this team needed a moment like that, it was Upton.
And Upton’s last home stand of the season has been rolling along at a awesome clip before Friday nights game against the New york Yankee. The national media was poised at Tropicana Field hoping to see the Yankee hurler CC Sabathia post his 20th victory, but his night was cut short by Rays rallies in his first 2 2/3rds innings. And all the Yankee regulars were in the game tonight, it is not like Upton was hitting against the “B” team in the early stages of the contest.
But for the last week or so you saw something like this brewing underneath the surface for Upton. You could sense from the over-the-shoulder catches to the lack of his front foot tapping during his swing that something was going to erupt. And not only did B J hit for the cycle, but he did it before the end of the fifth inning! It was the fastest cycle since Mike Lansing of the Colorado Rockies got all four hits in the first four innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 18, 2000.
But the last 10 games have been a mini great season for Upton. On Wednesday night he got his 41st steal of th season to post back-to-back 40+ steal seasons, and had gone 9 for 25 (.277) over his last 9 games prior to Friday night. If you add on his numbers from last night, Upton has now gone 16 for 40 (.400) over his last 11 games with 12 RBI, his solo HR last night. During that stretch, he also had 4 stolen bases and 4 consecutive multi-hit games. The last 10 games have also seen a subtle change to Upton’s approach and swing, but if you have not watched B J, you would miss the small detailed differences.
Gone is that nervous energy tapping of the foot on his follow-through. That was more a part of his internal timing device to try and syncho himself with the opposing pitcher, but people picked up on it and began to attack him with multi-speeds and sent him into a bit of a funk after July. But now the small tap is gone, and with it has been a more fluid and sure-footed plant as he swings through the zone. Sure this might not be the only thing that has been either mentally or physically adjusted by Upton, but it is something that looks small to most people, but has produced major results for him since its change.
For most of the year you have seen me write about Upton because I see a major player with an open book of potential about to hit his stride. I was hoping 2009 would be the year he would breakout at the plate and dominate at the dish the way he does in centerfield. But with this late rush of excitement and confident stroke in hand, this will send B J into the off season with a ton of confidence and hope for the 2010 season. The kid (he is only 25) has a long time in this league, and we might only be seeing the tip of the iceberg right now.
But for most of the Rays Republic they have stood fast in their condemnation of Upton this season. Hopefully the last 10 games, and the American League Player of the Month award in July when he hit .324 with 5 HR, 22 RBI and 14 SB was just a taste of what could be in store for teams in 2010. All ready there have been online rumors floating about maybe shopping Upton in this off season. But it is fair to say that the Rays will do their usual listening to every offer, but it will have to be a blockbuster deal to send the talented outfielder outside of Tampa Bay.
And on the heels of this seasonings ending will be the first time that Upton will also be able to face the Rays cash register as he will enter only his first arbitration hearing this winter. Sure the Rays tried to lock him up a few years ago when the old regime was in control, but he has stood fast to taking the one-year deals from the team until this year’s hearings. It is proposed by Rays Index, which guess-timated that Upton could get as much as $ 3.5 million in his first jaunt to the table this fall. If you factor in the defense, the churning of offense the last two seasons, and the potential of this budding superstar, he will be going no where this winter.
But still, last night event showed the Rays fans that Upton is here to play. the quiet outfielder was sure to thank the fans first last night in his radio interview with Rays Radio post-game host Rich Herrera. And that is the true nature of the guy. He knows he is lucky not to have to pretend to love the 9-to-5 grind. And he truly feels blessed to have his talents and abilities. but sometimes that soft personality that hides his true passion gets mistaken for arrogance and conceit. But the guy is all baseball, and hopefully in the next coming years we will see him open up both on the field and with all of us and see what a great guy, and player B J Upton really is………..and we are lucky to have him, and watch him 162 games a season.