Upton returns to Chase Field for first time since trade
Braves outfielder was No. 1 pick in 2005 First-Year Player Draft by D-backs
PHOENIX -- If Justin Upton is feeling any extra pressure upon his return to Chase Field, he did a good job of not showing it during a pregame media session.
"No, it's a baseball game," Upton said when asked if he'd have any added adrenaline. "All this leading up to it is a little bit more than what the game will be. It's not Game 7 of the World Series and there's going to be a lot of games that come after this one, so I take it in stride and play three games on the road and get back home."
Upton was referring to Atlanta when he said home, but he owns a house in Arizona and these three days are his first opportunity to sleep in his own bed since Spring Training. He also plans on living there at least through next offseason.
Upton, the top pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, called Chase Field home from 2007-12, but Monday he walked past the door that led to the D-backs' clubhouse and continued along the corridor until he got to the visitors' clubhouse, a place he had only visited when the team used it as a staging area during its annual FanFest.
There hanging in his locker was not a Sedona Red No. 10 jersey, but rather a grey No. 8 Atlanta uniform. If there was any significance to the moment, Upton wasn't going to share it.
"It was different," he said. "But it's just another locker room."
The trade to the Braves allowed Upton to team up with his brother, B.J., and while some said it was also chance at a fresh start, he downplayed that.
"To be honest with you, the fans in Atlanta can look at the back of my baseball card too, so my past still comes with me," Upton said. "But it's a new year, and every year is a new year, and you get a chance to go out and put up different numbers and be part of winning teams every year, so it's really up to you each year to rewrite the books."
Upton received a mixture of cheers and boos when he came to the plate for the first time and he grounded out.
That would prove to be the only time the D-backs could get him out on the evening, as he got hits in his next four at-bats -- including a two-run homer and a double -- in Atlanta's 10-1 win.
As he popped out of the visitors' dugout to get ready for team stretch before the game, Upton was swarmed by cameramen looking to capture the moment.
The D-backs were just finishing up batting practice, and outfielder Gerardo Parra was the first to greet Upton with a big hug.
Then in a twist, Martin Prado, who Upton was traded for, came over and the two hugged and chatted briefly.
Prado was followed by D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall and team owner Ken Kendrick.
Though he once referred to Upton as an "enigma," Kendrick was a big supporter of Upton within the organization and was reluctant to trade him.
"He's a great young man and he's off to a really good start," Kendrick said. "I guess I would say I hope he doesn't do that well while he's here [this week]. But I'm happy for him. I think the trade is good for both sides, and we'll look back over time and see if that's the case. That's what I hope."
It would seem a given that Upton would put more pressure on himself to perform in this series against his former team, but again, that was something he was not about to admit.
"It's a long season and it's a marathon, and you have to put up numbers over a long period of time," he said. "This three-game series is very small in the scale of how your season is going to turn out. I don't see that as being any type of motivation. I motivate myself either way. When you're on the field competing, it kind of doesn't matter where you're competing."
Even though he had been in trade rumors for months, Upton said when the deal to Atlanta finally happened, it was still a shock.
Upton spent Spring Training getting acclimated to a new organization and a new way of doing things, though the fact that the Braves have spent a lot of time on the road this season has kept him from fully settling in Atlanta.
The transition in the clubhouse, though, has been seamless.
"He's really been great," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's been your three hitter. He's been the guy we count on to come up with some big hits. He's a good clubhouse presence. He's been tremendous. I've enjoyed his company and cultivating the relationship we have. He's fantastic. I've enjoyed him."
After taking batting practice, Upton signed autographs for the cluster of Braves fans above the visiting dugout, and while he maintained that this visit was no big deal, he revealed a bit more when asked if he was anxious to get these three days behind him.
"I'm looking forward to coming back next year without all this," he said referring to the attention.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.