All-Star Interview: Justin Upton

On the morning of the All-Star Game, Phil and I were invited to Fanfest to take part of a new promotion MLB and Pepsi MAX are launching.  It would involve Justin Upton, other great current players, and many of our favorite legends of the past 30 years or so. 

Essentially what Pepsi MAX and MLB have created is a contest to allow fans to create a Field of Dreams Team.  Fans vote on their ultimate 9 (plus DH), but there’s a catch.  This isn’t like the Century Team that was created in 1999, or any of the other "best of" lists that are created every year.

No, one lucky fan will get to play a game of baseball against this Field of Dreams Team.   I don’t know about you, but that would be pretty awesome.

At the event were Justin Upton, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Rollie Fingers, Barry Larkin, Tony Gwynn, and Rickey Henderson.  We were given some time with each of them (except Rickey, but he had somewhere to go) and we’ll be running a series of interviews and roundtables over the next week featuring some of the game’s best talent.

For the Justin Upton interview, shown below, we were joined by Roberto of Bleacher Report.  

Phil: I’m wearing your shirt.

(laughter)

Tim: About the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Team promotion, are you going to vote?  Do you want to play against these legends?

Justin Upton: I’d love to, these guys are great.  They put together a good group of players.  I’m going to vote, but I hope they pick someone else.  I just got to meet these guys.

Bleacher Report: How does it feel to be selected to your second All-Star Game?

JU: It’s awesome, especially being here in Phoenix, it’s just exciting.  You bring everyone in baseball, the great players and energy it can bring to a city.  I’m definitely looking forward to it, and looking forward to stepping out on the field.

P: What was your favorite moment from the first half of the season? 

JU: The walk-off hits were fun, don’t get me wrong, but I think where our season kind of turned was against Minnesota when Kelly Johnson hit a grand slam to bring us back.  We’ve been going pretty well since then.  When you’re down like that and you’re able to come back and win a ballgame, that’ll boost a club. 

T: Your strikeout rate is the lowest of your career this year.  Has Don Baylor given you any specific techniques to help?

JU: No, I haven’t changed anything with my swing.  His big thing that he preaches is pitch selection.  Sometimes you just want to go up there and hack and even when you’re not feeling well at the plate that’s the best advice you can give somebody.  I’ll go out and get an out and come back in and he’ll say, "What are you doing?  There wasn’t anything wrong with your swing but pitch selection."  So I think he’s really pounded that into the team.  I think that’s helped us out tremendously. 

BR: I have to ask about the home run derby.  Were you frustrated that you weren’t selected?

JU: I wasn’t frustrated.  I obviously wanted to be there out in front of the fans, but they put Prince in a tough situation having only three guys.  I couldn’t be mad at him, but I would love to do it, and the fans let him know last night.

(laughter)

T: They were definitely asking for you.

P: Did that feel good?  Not the boos for Rickie Weeks, but the chants for you?

JU: The boos didn’t feel good for those guys.  I didn’t want them to get booed.  But it felt good, the support our fans showed last night was awesome. 

BR: Think you could have hit any harder than Robinson Cano?

JU: I think I would have had a little extra incentive; I would have been so pumped up.  I think I could have done pretty well.

P: The clubhouse seems pretty loose this year.  Have you been part of any pranks, or had any pulled on you?

JU: Other than the whole team tie prank, I do so much during the day I don’t really have time.  But the time in the clubhouse is pretty fun. 

BR: The first half of this season has been completely different than last season.  Do you think the bullpen was the biggest change, or Kirk Gibson being hired full time and enforcing his no-nonsense style?

JU: Well he’s my manager so I should say it’s Kirk Gibson.  But I’ll say the bullpen gives the team confidence knowing that the back end can close out games.  I think that has the biggest effect on a team, knowing you have no pressure to go out and score a million runs.  You know when you have a 1, 2 or 3 run lead JJ is going to come and close it out.  But we’ve had a couple missing pieces for a couple weeks now so the bullpen has been a little weakened.  But we’ll get back on track.  I think that’s the biggest confidence booster, just knowing you have to give the ball to those guys with a lead.

T: This Pepsi MAX promotion is all about connecting the current superstars to the legends of baseball.  Who were some of your legends or baseball heroes growing up?

JU: They’re just becoming legends now, given how young I am.  But Derek Jeter was one of my favorite players when I was a shortstop coming up.  Ken Griffey Jr was one of my favorites, also.  They were the two I watched every night on ESPN and highlights and everything. 

P: Because you came up as a shortstop, was it cool to talk to Barry Larkin earlier?

JU: Oh yeah.

P: You’ve talked to him on MLB Network before.

JU: Yeah, you talk to those guys.  But to see him in person was awesome.  Those guys, you’d think they were still playing with how cool they are.  It was a great opportunity to meet them.  I met Ozzie Smith a couple weeks back, and growing up a shortstop those are the guys you watched.  And now you can go online and watch videos of them.  I just enjoy watching them.  You can appreciate it more when it’s something you do.  But now I’m an outfielder.

(Laughter)

P: But you still have Griffey.

JU: Yeah. 

BR: Do you have any predictions for the second half?

JU: I don’t like making predictions, but I know we’re going to make a run.  We’re going to give the Giants a run for their money.  They pitch well, and pitching is all for winning games in the second half.  That’s who we’re chasing, and we’re going to have to beat those guys to be in the hunt.  So we have to see them a few more times, and we have to be able to win some series.

P: About the Home Run Derby.  As you said, they put Prince in a tough position.  Do you like the new format, or do you think they should go back to the old one, or what would you do to make the selection process better?

JU: I don’t think they should necessarily change the format, I think it’s pretty cool.  They should definitely have some help from a panel.  They should bring their list of guys to a panel and tell them the guys they really want on their team, and then other side can say, "no, these are the guys." 

P: Basically, "did you consider this other guy?"

JU: Exactly.  They just need to be aided, not because he couldn’t do it on his own, but because it is a lot of pressure.  It’s a lot of pressure, and it’s a lot of politics, so that’s the side he’s not going to see.  You sit there and make out your list, but there may be somebody off it that could help you.  I think with the help of somebody you can make better decisions.  Like I said, there is a lot of pressure.  I like that you don’t have to be an All-Star to be in it.  That’s cool because sometimes power hitters don’t have a good first half, and so they’re unable to be an All-Star.  You see guys like Mike Stanton that can just hammer the ball. 

(Barry Larkin enters the room and sits down)

T: There’s been some talk about moving the Diamondbacks to the AL.  Is that something you would look forward to, or is it all the same?

JU: Travel would be a little worse.  Dallas and Seattle.  It would make travel a little tougher but baseball is baseball.  But now you’d give us a DH, which changes the outlook.  I think the fans would enjoy it, so Derrick Hall is definitely looking into it.  I think for us [the players] it wouldn’t change much. 

BR: Do you have any goals for the All-Star Game?  Hit or two, or a homer?  Or are you just looking to have a good time?

JU: I’m going to try and go out there and bang.  If I get a chance with some runners on base or scoring position, I’m going to try to get some runs in.  If I go deep, I go deep. 

BR: Maybe MVP trophy?

JU: I hope so. 

P: Last question, and kind of an odd one.  Do you hate Dinger, the Rockies mascot, as much as we do?

JU: He’s the worst.  He might be the worst mascot ever. 

P: Especially since he stands behind the catcher at the end of games and tries to distract the closer.

JU: And they hype Dinger up in the stadium like he’s the best thing since sliced bread.  It’s awful.  There’s a few bad ones, but Dinger might be the worst. 

T: Any other mascots out there that have terrorized you?

P: Or that you can’t stand?

JU: No, not that I can’t stand.  The Phanatic cracks me up every time we’re there.  And the one in Pittsburgh, what’s his name? 

P: Pirate Parrot.

JU: Yeah, he’s funny, too. 

Justin is told he needs to hit the next room, so we all shake hands before he leaves.  

Barry Larkin: Don't ask me about mascots.

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