Upton carries with him lessons from youth
Slugger raised in area rich with MLB talent, military history
Justin Upton didn't just grow up the younger brother of Rays star B.J. Upton. Raised near Norfolk, Va., the D-backs outfielder had plenty of Major League talent to admire as a youth.
Michael Cuddyer of the Twins, David Wright of the Mets and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals also came up in the area, and all set fine examples for the younger Upton.
Upton's performance at age 21, helping the D-backs to the National League Championship Series in 2007, and a 20-20 season in 2009 -- 26 homers and 20 steals -- show he knows a good example when he sees it.
"I grew up playing around those guys, practicing with them and watching them all evolve into Major League ballplayers," Upton says. "It was a drive for me, seeing what those guys had accomplished and be like those guys and be in their position. They all play a pretty big part on their teams. You play at a certain level and play a certain way, people tend to follow."
Upton says a lot of what he learned about leadership, he learned from going to school in an area with an area steeped in military culture.
"I grew up with kids whose parents were in the military," he said. "Obviously, the history, even the classes were really involved, and the field trips we went on, a lot of times it was military-oriented. With the history and our area being so rich in military history, that was one of the key points."
One of Upton's proudest moments was playing for Team USA and taking his leadership on the baseball field to an international level at the 2004 IBAF World Junior championships in Taiwan.
"Just being part of a group of guys that went out there and played their hardest for their country every single day, it wasn't a big tournament, but we still played like it, and that's what made it special," he said. "Being in a different country with those guys and getting to meet people from other countries, that was a special experience, too."
Upton grew up admiring Derek Jeter, who led the Yankees time and time again into the postseason, and Ken Griffey Jr., who rocketed baseballs with grace. Like them and the mentors he had in Virginia, Upton has become a vital part of his ballclub, and even at a young age leads his ballclub because of his abilities.
"It doesn't have to be one person," Upton said. "It's just got to be a person, or a group of people, who can bring a group of people together to work towards a common goal. Even if it's wrong or right, or it doesn't get the job done, everybody's on the same page, working towards a goal. If you're not working towards a goal, pushing yourself to be the best you can be at something, it's tough to achieve a goal. As hard as you work, someone else is working just as hard, so you always have to keep that in mind."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.