I had the opportunity to talk with the B.J. Upton today, and he was willing to answer some questions for the site. Last year, the "Real" Beej broke out offensively and also found himself a regular role out in center field. He posted a split of .300/.386/.508 and was one of the top Rays all year long. Let me just preface this by saying thank you to B.J. for taking the time out of his day to do this interview with us.
Matt Bishoff: It has been recently announced that you, along with your brother Justin, Michael Cuddyer, and Tim Hummel will be building a baseball clinic in Virginia. How did this idea come about, and how is it progressing?
B.J. Upton: I think it's something that we have always wanted to do with me, my dad, and Michael's dad. It is something they have always talked about. The opportunity finally came around for us to do it, and we pretty much jumped on it. There is not a lot of places back at home where kids can go in the winter to work out, and swinging the bat is tough outside. So, we thought it would be a great idea to build it, and we just got the land for it. It should be going up here pretty soon.
Matt: And you have known Michael Cuddyer your whole life?
B.J.: Pretty much, since I was 9 years old maybe. My mom actually taught him in school, and we've just been good family friends for a while.
Matt: Recently, ESPN's Keith Law wrote an article comparing you to your younger brother Justin, where he saw Justin as having a slightly better MLB career. With you and your brother both going to be playing full MLB seasons this year, is there any brotherly trash talk exchanged over who will have the better season?
B.J.: No, we both just want to see each other do well. We talk to each other about our family, we talk during the year not even about baseball. We have been lately since Spring is coming back around. We are just helping each other and hoping that both of us have good years. I want him to do well, and I know he wants me to do well.
Matt: Last season, you really broke through offensively at the MLB level as you were always expected to. One concern was your high strikeout rate (32.5%), is this something you will be looking to improve on in 2008? Is there anything you have done in the offseason to try and work on this?
B.J.: I mean you definitely want to improve on it. I definitely don't want to strike out that many times. You know I think, if I have the same exact season that I had last year and the strikeouts are still there, then I think its just something that I am gonna have to work with. But you definitely want to improve on it, and I just gotta swing the bat a little bit more this year, and we will see where that takes me.
Matt: When you were still projecting as a shortstop, you worked with Ozzie Smith on your footwork. What was it like learning from one of the legends of the game?
B.J.: It was great. He is a great guy. He definitely taught me some little things, that I had never heard before and they helped me. It was definitely short time with him, only 2 days. I learned a lot in those 2 days, and definitely helped my game at shortstop.
Matt: Some people get the perception that Delmon Young was a bad teammate after the bat-throwing incident and his argument with Joe Maddon at the end of the season. You have spent plenty of time with Delmon throughout the minors and majors, what kind of teammate was he to you?
B.J.: You know, he was a great teammate to me, he came in a year after I did, and I got to play with him for 2-3 years. I mean, I had a great time with him.
Matt: From a fan standpoint, many people see Joe Maddon as the most optimistic person alive, and they get upset that they never see him get irate and mad. What is it like being in the clubhouse with Joe? Does he ever get frustrated and let loose on the team?
B.J.: It's great being in the clubhouse with Joe Maddon, he is great for us young guys. Joe doesn't need to let everyone know he is upset, and I think the team, we know when he is upset, and I guess that is all that needs to be said.
Matt: What was it like being rushed to the majors at the age of 19, and taking nearly a year and a half to get back up? Did getting sent back down ever effect your level of confidence?
B.J.: No, I always believed I could play, and there were just some things that I needed to work on and get those figured out. If it wasn't in the infield, then it would be the outfield. Now I am the center fielder and I'm just gonna move on from there.
Matt: What are your thoughts on the new stadium proposal? Would you prefer to play your home games in the sunny Florida weather?
B.J.: I mean Florida is the sunshine state, but the dome is also cool because you don't have rain outs and it's always cool inside. It doesn't get hot. I think you would definitely like to play outside. I looked at a couple of pictures and it looked pretty cool. So, hopefully it goes through.
Matt: You were moved to centerfield last season, and seemed to learn the position pretty quickly. How comfortable are you there now, and how much room for improvement do you see for yourself?
B.J.: You can always improve. There is some things that I am going to have to figure out this year, and I think I'll learn more as I go along. Learning the hitters and the ballparks and things like that. I just want to get better and hopefully I do.
Matt: What are your expectations for the 2008 season for the Rays, and the seasons to come for the team?
B.J.: I don't want to say anything in specific, but I think were definitely gonna do
some good things this year.
Matt: Was it exciting seeing the Rays make an effort to sign some players and keep some players here long term?
B.J.: Definitely, it was good to seen the Pena signing and the Shields signing. We've got some guys around and we've got some guys added to our bullpen this year, and I think we're gonna be great.