B.J. and Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves look on during the game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Toronto Raptors at Philips Arena on January 30, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports
- The Upton brothers are reunited on the playing field for the first time since they were kids
- Justin: "It's nice to have a fresh start, for both of us."
- Some critics say the Upton's have underachieved
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - It's the cute, adorable story of the spring.
Two brothers, reunited on the playing field for the first time since they were kids, playing side-by-side in the Atlanta Braves outfield.
Justin Upton and B.J. Upton, who will step on the field together today for the Braves' first full-squad workout of spring training, realize they'll be followed by cameras, news reporters, videographers and fans, simply to see their interaction.
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Well, not to spoil a Hollywood story, but the Upton brothers are ready to change the script.
"We're teammates, yeah, and that's cool, but we decided that it's time to play baseball," says Justin Upton, 25. "Let's shift into that mode.
"We've got some work to do."
This isn't going to be some family reality show, they say. Their lockers might be next to one another in spring training, but they live about an hour apart. When they head north to Atlanta, they'll live five miles away from one another.
"If we lived together, we'd kill each other," Justin says, laughing.
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The Uptons, cheered wildly by the crowd when shown on the scoreboard at a recent Atlanta Hawks game, are not only committed to leading the Braves to their first World Series title since 1995, but they also want to make sure their images are refurbished and forever restored.
"It's nice to have a fresh start, for both of us," Justin Upton told USA TODAY Sports. "Obviously, B.J. has been through a lot there (in Tampa), I've been through a lot in Arizona. Now we have fresh starts, in new organizations, with new teammates.
"It can only help."
The Uptons, the only brothers to be No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the amateur draft, were projected to be superstars. They have made two All-Star appearances and led their teams to five combined playoff berths, but it still doesn't seem to be enough to satisfy critics who believe they have underachieved.
Hold on, the Uptons say, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who have thrived despite roster churn, might realize how much they miss B.J. watching him for the next five years, though they couldn't afford the $75.25 million the Braves spent to obtain him. The Diamondbacks, who traded Justin in a seven-player deal, say they are better off without him, with special assistant Luis Gonzalez even calling him moody and criticizing his leadership skills.
"I'm gone, and they're still talking about me,'' Upton said. "It's crazy. Really, the last few years have been a little stressful with all of the trade [talks]. But I'm done with it. I've got no problems. Say what you want to say. At the end of the day, I'm going to do what I'm going to do.
"They made their bed, now they've got to lie in it.''
Upton says this with no hint of resentment, yet he's intent on showing Arizona what it's missing.
"All I know,'' Upton says, "is it's nice to be with an organization that wants me here. It's nice to have that feeling again, where you can just relax and not worry about other stuff.''
The Diamondbacks, who made Upton the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, concede now they may have done him a disservice by also making him the face of the franchise. They even renamed the right field section of their ballpark, calling it, "Uptown.''
"There was a lot of pressure on Justin here,'' general manager Kevin Towers says. "He was the face of the organization, the rising star . The expectations were through the roof. The team struggled, and it always seemed like it was because of Justin.''
Upton, who hit .280 with 17 homers and 67 RBI last season, says he never felt such a burden.
"Not to knock Arizona,'' Upton said, "but it wasn't like we were playing in front of a sellout crowd and had 100 media people . That's pressure. Playing in Arizona, it was more of a homey-type atmosphere. ''
The only pressure now, the Uptons say, is to win and drive one another to greatness, making Tampa and Arizona regret they parted company.
"People in Atlanta are going crazy, I know I can't wait,'' says,'' Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez says. "I know this, if they act up, I'll have to make only one phone call. I'll call their dad, the Bossman, and he'll take care of everything.''
Gonzalez laughed. Upton laughed even harder when relayed the story. And the Braves may be laughing the loudest when October comes around.
"It's going to be whole lot of fun around here,'' Justin Upton says. "I can't wait.''