KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — B.J. and Justin Upton played on the same baseball team just once growing up, a travel squad in Virginia that also included future big leaguers David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman.
Now the brothers are being given a chance to man the same outfield by the Atlanta Braves.
“I didn’t come to Atlanta expecting to be playing with Justin, it just happened,” B.J. Upton said. “It is a really special thing.”
Three years older than Justin, B.J. signed with the Braves as a free agent in November after eight seasons with Tampa Bay. Justin arrived a couple of months later, in a seven-player trade with Arizona.
For B.J. it was something he always wanted: a chance to play in the same lineup as his brother. He always thought it was just a matter of time.
Both Uptons are soft spoken, but their bond at the Braves spring training camp has been obvious. They have adjoining lockers in the clubhouse, and both showed up well before position players were required to report.
“I’ve always been like that,” B.J. said. “I just wanted to get here. They don’t know me yet and I want to blend in. It’s going to be fun.”
B.J. was the No. 2 pick in the 2002 amateur draft, and his brother topped him in 2005 when he went first overall to Arizona.
Justin hit .280 with 17 home runs with 67 RBIs last season for the Diamondbacks. He said he struggled with the constant trade rumors and was happy when the deal finally happened in January.
B.J. had perhaps his best season in 2012 when he hit 28 homers, drove in 78 runs and stole 31 bases for the Rays. But, like his brother, has always played with the label of “underachiever.”
B.J. said he’s looking for big things with his new team.
“I have always given my best and I loved Tampa, but it was time for something new,” he said. “Having my brother here just makes it better.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has seen Justin with Arizona, but had never gotten a good look at B.J. When the brothers took their first batting practice with the Braves on Tuesday, Gonzalez was pleased.
“I am really seeing them for the first time, and they can hit,” Gonzalez said. “They came in here in great shape and ready to play. I have liked everything I have seen from them. It doesn’t matter if they are brothers, but they are great players and will help us.”
B.J. and Justin are trying to downplay the fact that they are finally on the same team. They are three years apart in age, so it was usually Justin looking up at his older brother, waiting for the chance to play together.
“We are teammates now, but we just want to start playing baseball,” Justin said. “It’s all good but it’s still about what we can do on the field.”
One thing the brothers aren’t doing is living together. B.J. is making the long commute from Tampa to Braves camp at Disney World.
“He’s crazy,” Justin Upton said. “We’ll see how long it lasts.”
BRAVES NOTES: Pitcher Brandon Beachy is expecting to be ready to throw off a mound by next week as part of his rehabilitation from elbow-reconstruction surgery. Beachy is expected back in the Braves’ rotation by June after posting a 5-5 record with a 2.00 ERA before surgery in June.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.