The weirdest part will probably be the beginning, when he walks into Chase Field as an away player for the first time and steps foot in the visitors’ clubhouse. But as for facing someone in a Diamondbacks’ uniform — the only jersey he wore during his first six years in the majors — Justin Upton sounds like he’s kind of over it. “I go back and look at video every once in a while when I’m looking for something mechanically, and being in a D-Back uniform looks old to me,” Upton said. “I’m enjoying wearing this uniform every day.” Upton was sitting in front of his locker at AT&T Park, where he and his new team, the Atlanta Braves, will wrap up a four-game series Sunday before heading to Phoenix for a three-game set against the Diamondbacks beginning Monday. Not so long ago, Upton was the face of the Diamondbacks franchise. His name adorned the right-field bleachers at Chase Field. He played on two playoff teams, finished fourth in MVP voting in 2011 and was widely considered among the more physically talented players in the game. But he had a down year in 2012. And in January, after years of on-again, off-again trade talk, the Diamondbacks finally moved him, shipping him to the Braves in a blockbuster seven-player deal that landed them third baseman Martin Prado and four others. And by that point, Upton wasn’t exactly unhappy about being dealt. He said it wasn’t that he wanted to be traded, wasn’t that he no longer wanted to be with the Diamondbacks. He said he enjoyed his time in Arizona, still makes his home there and plans to for at least the next few years. Rather, it was that he wanted to be in a place where he was wanted. And by the end of the season, after another cycle of seemingly endless trade rumors, he wasn’t sure that was the case. “When we called and asked what my future was in Arizona, they didn’t give a clear answer,” Upton said, referring to a call his agent, Larry Reynolds, made to the Diamondbacks in the off-season. “They gave the same (answer) to me that they gave to you: That they weren’t shopping me but were listening to offers. So our reaction was, ‘If this is that you don’t want Justin here, then if you want to move him, then entertain (offers).’ That’s what they did. “There was nothing that was said out in the media, nothing that either side was hiding. They said they weren’t shopping me, and we didn’t technically say, ‘Please trade me. I want to be traded.’ It was, ‘If I don’t fit, then (go ahead and trade me).’ ” Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers said although Upton’s side suggested a change of scenery might be in order he never felt boxed in as if he had to make a deal. “But it maybe gave me a little bit more conviction to do it,” Towers said. “Your biggest fear is if that’s where the player is in his head, what’s he going to be like? If he’s thinking a change of scenery might be better for him at that point in time, how would he react if he were going to remain a Diamondback? I’m not going to lie, that entered into my thinking as well.” Upton, 25, couldn’t have been sent to a more comfortable place. He was united with his older brother, B.J., who signed with Atlanta in the off-season. The two live about five minutes apart, allowing Justin to spend time his 3-year-old nephew, Riley. He gets to see more of his parents, who live in nearby Virginia. And the Braves are a good club, with a powerful lineup and solid pitching. And Upton jumped off to a monster start, hitting .298 with 12 home runs and 19 RBIs in April, garnering league Player of the Month honors and last week being named by an online sports gambling site as the early favorite to win the NL MVP. He returns to Phoenix swinging a less sizzling bat; he hasn’t homered since April 27, and is hitting just .227 over the past two weeks. “He’s a great player, a great teammate,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s fun to be with. Intense. Smart about the game. Accountable. When he screws up, he comes in and says that he screwed up. He has a lot of good traits. He’s a winner.” Towers said during spring training that he didn’t envision the Diamondbacks as a World Series-caliber team as they were previously constructed. “It hadn’t happened,” Towers said. “I just didn’t see it happening. I think we needed to change the dynamics here regardless of what (Upton’s) upside is.” Upton said he never got an indication of what it was about him that compelled the team to trade him. He said that other than a handful of conversations with manager Kirk Gibson, he never received much direction. “Nobody outside of Gibby ever came to me and said, ‘Hey, these are some things that can make you a better leader, better person or a better player,’” he said. “From my perspective, I just needed to go home and I worked on what I thought I needed to work on. Nobody ever really came to me and said I needed to do things differently.” He said his relationship with Gibson was “fine,” acknowledging some rough patches last season when he was benched during slumps, but adding, “I wouldn’t say that either of us dislike each other.” The Diamondbacks might have soured on him after an inconsistent year at the plate. He hit just 17 home runs with a .430 slugging last season, one year after hitting 31 homers with a .529 slugging. But Upton played much of the season with an injured thumb that made it difficult for him to grip a bat.
Justin Upton says he has no hard feelings about Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona Republic | May 12