USA TODAY Sports Weekly

Up­ton feels no fear:

Out­fielder who has had ups, downs ready to chase ti­tle with Tigers

- An­thony Fenech @an­tho­nyfenech USA TO­DAY Sports Sports · MLB Baseball · Baseball · Detroit Tigers · Justin Upton · Virginia · Detroit · San Diego Padres · San Diego · Chesapeake · Norfolk · Mark Reynolds · North Carolina · Long Beach · Great Bridge, Virginia · Norfolk State University · David Wright · Cameron Maybin

Af­ter fac­ing ma­jor ex­pec­ta­tions through­out ca­reer, Tigers’ $132 mil­lion man grows into star­dom.

“I can tell you this,” Yvonne Up­ton said, think­ing back to the time her youngest son played catcher. “He wasn’t afraid. He just put it on and went out there.”

Justin Up­ton didn’t catch. He was in eighth grade, played short­stop and was at the be­gin­ning of a base­ball jour­ney that has taken him from base­ball fields in south­ern Vir­ginia to All-Star Games in the ma­jor leagues to where his mom sat on this night, hold­ing roses, in­side the Tiger Club at Comer­ica Park.

Min­utes ear­lier, Justin had been in­tro­duced as the Detroit Tigers’ new left fielder, signed to a six-year, $132.75 mil­lion con­tract, and she re­called the first time she thought he might have a chance to make such a jour­ney.

They were at one of those lo­cal fields, and a few col­lege kids needed a catcher.

“And those guys were throw­ing pretty hard,” she said. “There were some scouts stand­ing around, and they could not be­lieve this 13-year-old just strapped on the gear and got be­hind the plate. He just wasn’t afraid.”

No, Justin Up­ton wasn’t afraid of those fast­balls, and he wasn’t afraid of the ex­pec­ta­tions to come. He isn’t afraid of much, if any­thing, be­sides fall­ing short of his own stan­dards.

He is 28, the lit­tle brother of San Diego Padres out­fielder Melvin Up­ton Jr. and fa­vorite son of Great Bridge High, a cen­tury-old school lo­cated just out­side Ch­e­sa­peake, Va.

They were a base­ball fam­ily, led by father Manny Up­ton, who played col­lege base­ball at nearby Nor­folk State be­fore coach­ing and scout­ing.

“We watched a lot of base­ball in that house,” Manny said. “That was the main chan­nel. They were ate up with base­ball.”

When they couldn’t hit base­balls out­side, they would hit Nerf balls in­side. “From my mem­o­ries,” Justin said, “I’ve al­ways been swing­ing a bat.”

He com­peted with Melvin, who is three years older. “He never took it easy on him,” Manny said. Years later, too young to play, he tagged along with Melvin and fu­ture big-lea­guers David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds on a travel team they played for. Some­times, they sneaked him in to pinch-run.

He played up two age groups on the AAU cir­cuit, of­ten against new Tigers team­mate Cameron May­bin, who hailed from nearby North Carolina and hated pitch­ing against him.

“I threw at him a cou­ple times,” May­bin said. “I was tired of pitch­ing to him.”

Com­pet­ing with Melvin his whole life and play­ing with older kids molded the com­pet­i­tive­ness that car­ried him through the teenage years of his ca­reer.

“It prob­a­bly helped him de­velop pretty rapidly as a player,” Manny said. “Their ex­pec­ta­tions were the same as his. So he got up in the morn­ing when they used to go hit at 5 a.m. I think that helped in be­com­ing the guy that he is.”

So did try­ing to keep up with his big brother, nick­named B.J.

“Ev­ery mile­stone B.J. reached, whether it be play­ing na­tion­ally or when he got drafted, those were al­ways things that I wanted to do,” he said. “It def­i­nitely made me push to get to the next level.”

Af­ter his fresh­man year of high school, Justin’s name started cir­cu­lat­ing with a strong per­for­mance in the Area Code Games scout­ing show­case in Long Beach. The next sea­son, scouts started cir­cling, as he led Great Bridge to its first state ti­tle as a sopho­more.

“I think at that point, that’s where I said, ‘OK, if I work the way I should, then I’ll be all right,’ ” he said.

He had power, hit­ting balls off build­ings and into park­ing lots, and speed to burn. One time, he dou­bled on a blooper to right field. The out­fielder was play­ing deep, and he beat the throw with­out leav­ing his feet.

“Who gets a standup dou­ble on a bloop flare to right field in front of the right fielder?” Great Bridge as­sis­tant coach Sean Townsend said.

An­other time, Townsend and

 ?? 2004 PHOTO BY KEN­NETH SIL­VER, (NEW­PORT NEWS, VA.) DAILY PRESS ?? Justin Up­ton, a su­per prospect com­ing out of Great Bridge High, near Ch­e­sa­peake, Va., was the No. 1 over­all pick in the 2005 draft and is a three-time All-Star.
2004 PHOTO BY KEN­NETH SIL­VER, (NEW­PORT NEWS, VA.) DAILY PRESS Justin Up­ton, a su­per prospect com­ing out of Great Bridge High, near Ch­e­sa­peake, Va., was the No. 1 over­all pick in the 2005 draft and is a three-time All-Star.

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