New Fire Churning in Upton’s Belly
I spoke with him at the 2012 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. He was excited, energetic and anxious to hit the field “officially”. I have to admit, over the last 4 Springs when I have talked to the Tampa Bay Rays CF B J Upton, these phrases never came vividly into my mind.
Some will want to discount it immediately as Upton knowing he has to produce, make his name shine above the madness even before the Trade Deadline mark in late July. Other dark forces will destined it to Upton possibly entering his “walk” season knowing if he wants a big payday like former Rays LF Carl Crawford, now is the time to put the exclamation points after his name.
But with all that diverse and circumventing opinions and comments swirling around like the waters of the Rays Tank, I truly have a hunch that Upton finally feels a part of this team. Over the past 2 seasons his confidence inside the clubhouse has soared, and players now look to him for inspiration and pointers. Finally Upton seems to feel that veteran vibe, and it suits him, especially this Spring.
Say what you want on me pounding the drum hard for Upton, but his work ethic in the off-season, and his presence at Charlotte Sports Park even earlier than Pitchers and Catchers Report date shows his agenda firmly has the Rays best interest stamped prominently upon it. This is the Upton I have been waiting for to emerge and want to lead this young squad for a long time.
Of course it is only the first Spring contest, and all his pre-Spring rituals and workouts did play into his great start today against the Minnesota Twins on the Grapefruit League’s Opening Day. You want to get really excited about Upton’s 2-for-2 day with a run scored, a double and a spirited triple to RCF. Possibly Upton has found that focus he has swatted away in the past, found terra firma in the Batter’s Box, finally feels confident and ready in his Rays skin. The next 33 days will fly by like the wind, and hopefully Upton can make the Rays Republic confident the 2012 edition of the B J Upton Show will be a “must see” event.
As I talked to him on the 10th tee, Upton was excited that the Rays starting rotation would be all returning, and a few tweaks could make them even stronger for 2012. Was anxious to see if the MLB persona of Luke Scott was just an act, or if his psychological warfare and rampant dialogue was just the sort of things to rev the Rays machine somehow reminiscent of the energy and volatile emotions displayed in the past by ex-Rays wild child Jonny Gomes.
This is a guy who is harder on himself than any reporter or fan. Who knows his legacy has bruises, tarnished spots and some question his motives and intellect at times. But I truly feel by October we will have seen a different side of Upton at the plate, possibly making a lot of those darkened moments from the past washed off his reputation like the clay from his cleats. It is about time we get introduced to Upton, the team leader and not just the Rays resident scapegoat.
Blogger’s Note: It is that time of year again. Spring Training to also rid myself of the Winter fat and get my brain tuned in for baseball. I will attempt to stretch out my creative process, bring some new items to light and get into seasonal writing shape before the Rays officially open the season against the Evil Empire on April 6, 2012. Going to be rough, there are going to be tired moments, writer’s block and maybe even some moments where the whole process comes up resembling a no-hitter scorecard. But one thing is for sure, I am excited to again be writing about actual baseball and not hoping for it……Play Ball!!!!