After weathering trade rumors, injuries and an underachieving 2010 season, Justin Upton has emerged as the face of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Upton, 23, joined Sports 620 KTAR’s Gambo and Ash show Wednesday to discuss his role as one of the now longest tenured D-backs in the clubhouse.
Many of his former teammates fell victim to a 65 win year and were traded or released. However, Upton is still with the team and is expected by many to carry a heavy load of production and leadership for the 2011 squad.
“You burn up on the inside going into an offseason when the team underperformed,” Upton said.
“Going into the offseason, you work harder and try to come back with a different mentality. You want to have the guys up and going day one of the season. It is a different vibe and hopefully it works out for us.”
The right-fielder hit 17 home runs and 69 RBI in 2010, a drop off from his breakout all-star season in 2009 when he produced 26 home runs and 86 RBI.
Upton said he needs to assess hitting situations better while overcoming the mental and physical taxation that comes from the 182 game season in order to get back to the all-star level.
“The big thing is I am going to have to stay on the field and I am going to have to play to the top level every day,” he said.
“There is going to be times where I don’t feel well when the body is aching and my swing doesn’t feel great. Those are the times when you are going to have to be mentally strong and not give away at-bats.”
He said there are no hard feelings over the trade rumors that surrounded him for most of the offseason because he expected some kind of shake up after the team finished last in the National League West last year.
“You bring Kevin Towers in and the pressure is on him to change some things. If I was the piece that needed to go for us to make the team better than that is what he had to do and that is the business side of this. We didn’t do our job so he had to do his,” the right fielder said.
Upton said he hopes the new veteran presence in the clubhouse along with leadership from himself, Chris Young and Stephen Drew will help the team rebound.
He said his goal for the season is to not only bring the team back to prominence, but to reach another all-star game in front of the home fans in Phoenix and in a stadium that he calls his “safe place”.
“If I have something going on off the field, when I come to the stadium, that is my safe place,” Upton said.
“When I’m here, I’m here with my teammates. I’m here to do what I love and that’s my goal.”