Upton Needs to “Get Back on the Horse” Soon
I am beginning to worry a bit about Tampa Bay Rays CF B J Upton. Not because he is missing vital Spring time in the field, but because sometimes letting a fear fester can be his own worst enemy. The reasoning for this worry stems from a recent collision between Upton and Rays LF Desmond Jennings that left both with soreness, stiffness and bouts of pain.
The worst injury unfortunately is the one we can not see with our eyes, or predict with any clarity. The mind is notorious for making the imagery of the event and the aftermath blur and sometimes amplify to the point where the athlete doesn’t venture into that same situation again with abandon, but with caution and fear for a return engagement with the grass and a visit from the Rays training staff.
This is the fear I have right now that Upton’s confidence is damaged. Not beyond repair, but he needs to get into game action soon, face the demon of another “dying quail between himself and the Rays infield, or a long drive high in the gap that he can run under, or take command of with confidence. Right now Upton could have the same hesitation that an NFL receiver feels initially after a jarring hit over the middle, or when he is somersaulting through the air after being up-ended.
Hearing footsteps, taking an extra degree of caution while running towards a ball can be detrimental to the style and devil-may-care attitude Upton has shown as he has risen up the ranks to become a top-tier defensive outfielder. Taking a second off his response time, a hesitation in his start towards a ball in flight or fearing another collision with a teammate could derail all the good deeds he has done in the Rays outfield since 2007.
The cure for this illness is simple. Upton needs to get back onto the field as soon as possible, have a high fly ball hit into the gap or in front of him and he needs to make the play like he did 1,000′s of times before his recent collision. The problem is right now, he is not on the field. Taking that first step onto the field during a contest is the first vital step in his recovery.
Sure some will say he needs to heal his physical wounds before he can stave off his mental issues, but that is malarkey. Getting back on his proverbial horse, seeing the ball again as just a white sphere and not something that almost took his livelihood away is paramount. Miscalculations happen every day in sports either by players in the field or on the mound, and they bounce back with better clarity and understanding of what to do “next time” a similar situation rears its ugly head.
A good word of advice is possibly Upton becoming more vocal, being the QB in the outfield and calling off infielders or his corner outfielders when he feels he has a legitimate shot at a ball. I still remember seeing a collision between Jose Cruz Jr and Damon Rolls in shallow Right field near the foul line in 2004 that shook both players to their internal cores. Both players ended up battling their own separate demons after that event, but both also tried to get back on the field ASAP to start the mental healing process.
For many MLB seasons Upton has thrown his body around the turf in the Trop. or on the road without a care or worry or fear of mortal consequences. It is a unteachable quality to give 110% on a play most would deem a loss even before an attempt, then gripping the ball in the glove and hearing the cheers all around you. Upton needs to get back on the field and make such a play and return to that cocky level of play that endears him to us.
Banging into walls, diving face-first with his glove and arm extended is part of the work that Upton has signed up for as a MLB outfielder, and he is very good at it. But right now with him on the sidelines, letting his mind play the event over and over again, it is a dangerous time for Upton.
The sooner Upton can again take stride towards the field, take total command again of his position and hope for a redemption screaming line drive hit either to his left or right. Until that moment, Upton will rethink the event in his head, replaying it, trying to dissect it like a Science experiment instead of accepting it is part of the game. Mental toughness is as important to his game persona as his sweet swing. Letting him simmer in the dugout possibly doing a replay over and over in his mind is not good for him or the team.
I have a gut feeling the first fly ball into the gaps or in front of Upton is key to his return to the field. No matter if it is BP or game time, that first blast towards him will cause a reaction, my guess it will trigger the old “Upton” to get on his high horse and pull that stray ball into his glove like he has 1,000′s of times before. But he must first step on the field for the real on-the-job healing to begin.