Justin Upton had a huge night in his return to Arizona with the Atlanta Braves.
Making his first trip to Chase Field as a visiting player, Upton homered and had four hits in Atlanta’s 10-1 victory over the Diamondbacks on Monday night.
Before the first pitch, he said his goal was to treat it like any other game. Turned out, it wasn’t.
This three-game series against Arizona, the team that traded him away, will be different, to be sure, but it’s not going to define his season.
”It’s a long season. It’s a marathon and you have to put up numbers over a long period of time,” Upton said. ”This three-game series is very small on the scale of how your season is going to turn out, so I don’t see that as any type of motivation. I motivate myself either way. When you’re on the field and competing, it doesn’t matter where you’re playing.”
Upton hit his major league-leading 13th homer of the season in the sixth inning, snapping a 14-game power drought. He came into the game leading the National League in home runs.
The slugger received a few more cheers than boos his first time up, but there wasn’t much of a reaction from the crowd before he grounded out.
An outfielder, Upton was drafted by Arizona with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 amateur draft and made a quick rise through the Diamondbacks’ system.
He played 43 games after being called up in 2007, when the Diamondbacks went to the playoffs, and was a two-time All-Star in six seasons with Arizona.
Upton had his best season in 2011, finishing fourth in NL MVP voting after hitting 31 homers with 88 RBIs while leading Arizona to the NL West title and earning a Silver Slugger Award.
But over the course of his final two seasons in the desert, he was the constant focus of trade speculation. The Diamondbacks weren’t openly trying to get rid of their best player, but acknowledged they were listening to offers.
Arizona tried to trade Upton to Seattle this past offseason, but he vetoed the deal.
Not long after, the 25-year-old was shipped to Atlanta in a seven-player deal that sent third baseman Martin Prado to Arizona and put Upton on the same team as his brother, B.J.
Even though the possibility of a trade was apparent, it caught Upton off guard when it actually happened.
”It’s a different feeling when you get traded, but you’ve got to take it in stride,” Upton said. ”From my perspective, the organization was going a different direction and I wasn’t a part of that. In turn, they got players that they needed to fill their holes and that’s part of the game.”
Despite the ongoing trade saga, Upton left Arizona saying all the right things, having no animosity for the only team he had known.
He did the same thing before the series opener against his former team, and the Diamondbacks had nothing but good things to say about their former star.
”He was a young ballplayer when he came up in 2007, we went to the playoffs that year and I’ve got nothing but good memories of him,” Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said. ”I respect J-Up and he knows that. We just moved forward and have to stay focused on tonight’s game. They’re a first-place team and that’s where we want to be.”
Though he hasn’t spent much time in Atlanta because of the Braves’ road-heavy opening schedule, Upton has enjoyed the move so far. He’s been able to see a lot more of his brother and had a great start to the season, hitting six homers in his first seven games.
Strange as it may have been to enter the visiting clubhouse in Arizona for the first time, Upton was excited to be back in an area where he still has a home.
”I’m happy to be back here,” Upton said. ”I played, obviously, the first few years of my career here. I’m just excited to be back. It’s a great opportunity to play against old teammates, get a chance to sleep in my own bed, which is fun, and just be back here in the Valley. I’d just like to thank the D-backs for the opportunity to start my career here.”