B.J. Upton, former Tampa Bay Rays center fielder, has signed with the Atlanta Braves for a five-year, $75.25 million dollar contract. The Braves were seeking a center fielder after losing Michael Bourn to free agency (he is expected to make more money than the Braves can afford). There was talk that the Philadelphia Phillies were also seeking Upton, but I believe Upton made the correct choice in selecting the Braves. It would have been difficult seeing Upton in a Phillies’ uniform; the team that beat the Rays in the 2008 World Series. Another plus with signing with the Braves is that Upton will be in the National League, allowing Rays fans to continue to support Upton since the Rays barely play the Braves.
Upton was a huge part in the Rays’ success since being drafted by the Rays in 2002. Upton debuted in the majors on August 2, 2004 at the age of 19; he had his first hit against Tim Wakefield. As a Ray, Upton would play as a shortstop, left fielder third baseman, second basemen, and finally center fielder where he would prosper. In 2007, he was on the starting roster. Though Upton could produce powerful hits (usually toward the end of the season in crucial games), he was known for his speed and defense. The Rays are a team that depends on players with speed to score runs – it was entertaining watching former left fielder Carl Crawford and Upton commit double steals. The Rays are also known for their defense and Upton was a player that could be counted on. Upton was able to track down a ball and make a catch in center field look easy. It is no news that not all Rays fan embraced Upton – he was benched in 2008 for poor effort and had a public fight with Evan Longoria in 2010. Upton sometimes served as a scapegoat for Rays’ poor hitting and high number of strike outs. Upton knew about this and worried about how fans would act at his last at-bat. On his last at-bat (in which he hit the ball), Upton was taken out early by Rays coach Joe Maddon to a thunderous applause by the fans.
On his Twitter, Upton wrote “Headed to the Trop for the last time this season. Thank you to all those that have supported me and the Rays – I’m touched by all the love.” The next night he wrote “Completely overwhelmed by all the love and support right now. My only regret is not being able to bring the fans a World Series title. We have our ups and downs together but the good times and the bad made me who I am today and I wouldn’t change it. I will always remember last night. All that support and emotion meant the world to me. Thank you for all the love #raysalwaysinmyheart.” Ever after signing with the Braves, Upton continued to thank Tampa for all the great times he had playing there. This was a strong contrast to Crawford who badmouthed the fans for the small attendance over the years.
Upton will always be part of Rays’ history. Upton was the first Ray to hit for the cycle in October 2009. On August 3, 1012, B.J. Upton and his brother, Justin Upton, both hit his 100th home run on the same day. Upton was the eighth player in major-league history to post 100 home runs and 200 steals before turning 28. Maddon twitted “Thanks BJ for everything you brought to our club. We couldn’t have become the Rays without you” and he is right. The Rays are going to have a hard time replacing Upton, even if left fielder Desmond Jennings takes over as center fielder. I wish Upton the best and look forward to watching him play when the Rays take on the Braves.