tampabay.com

Family affair

B.J. helps his younger brother prepare for the big leagues.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published August 5, 2007


 

B.J. Upton is all of 22, with barely one full season of major-league experience, but he found himself providing the advice and counsel last week when his younger brother, 19-year-old Justin, was unexpectedly called up from Double A by the Diamondbacks.

 "He's definitely prepared for it mentally," B.J. said. "I've been talking to him all year - don't change what you do, just go out there and take the same approach. It's the same game, just a little higher level. I just told him don't worry about it, just go out and play your game."

B.J. knows, since he, too, was 19 when he made his big-league debut for the Rays. Three years to the day later - how's that for coincidence? - Justin made his first appearance Friday. And he gets the bragging rights of having gotten there first, since he was four days younger at the time, having been born on Aug. 25, 1987. B.J.'s birthday is Aug. 21. 1984.

B.J. gave Justin the obligatory "Don't be nervous" speech and is eager to see how he does. He's hoping to see Justin play in person on Aug. 16, when the D'backs are in Miami and the Rays are off, but he'd really like to get a closer look.

"Hopefully we'll get to play each other somewhere down the line," B.J. said.

Meanwhile, B.J. is already experiencing the fallout of Justin's success. Their parents. Manny and Yvonne, were scheduled to come down from their Virginia home to spend the weekend at the Tropicana Field but quickly changed plans to go west.

"They pretty much pushed me to the side," B.J. said.

Oh, brother

There have been more than 350 pairs (and several trios, a quad and a quintet) of brothers to play in the big leagues, though to do so at the same time - and potentially for so long - could make the Uptons somewhat special.

The Rays have had a few brother acts, most notably the Lugos, who played together for the first four months of last season before Julio was traded to Los Angeles. Ruddy has since been claimed on waivers by Oakland.

And they have Delmon Young, whose older brother Dmitri has resurrected his career this season with Washington. Plus, Tim Corcoran's brother Roy is pitching in the minors for Florida, and Jonny Gomes' brother Joey is playing in an independent league.

Distant relatives?

B.J. and Justin aren't the first Upton brothers to play in the majors.

Tom and Bill Upton of the Esther, Mo., Uptons beat them to it by more than 50 years.

Tom, known as Muscles, was the starting shortstop for the St. Louis Browns in 1950 and played 181 games over parts of three big-league seasons, finishing with Washington in 1952.

Bill, three years younger, made it to the majors briefly with the Philadelphia A's in 1954, pitching in two games.

"Really?" B.J. said. "I hadn't heard of them."

Calling it like he sees it

Dewayne Staats has seen and experienced just about everything in 31 seasons, especially during the past 10 with the Rays, as one of the game's most professional broadcasters.

But nothing like what he's doing now, calling games from the booth for the same team his son-in-law is working for on the mound.

Dan Wheeler, the reliever reacquired recently from Houston, has been married for nearly five years to Staats' older daughter, Stephanie, and they are the parents of Staats' grandson, Gabriel.

"I don't know of anybody else who's had exactly this situation," Staats said. "And I've thought about this, because I'd watch games when he was with the Mets and Houston and sweat them out."

When Staats picked up the family at the airport last Sunday, he and Wheeler, who's on the quiet side to begin with, talked briefly about the potentially awkward situation. "It was like, 'I'm going to do my job, and you're going to do your job.' 'Yeah, sure.' And that was it," Staats said. "So I'm going to do my job and he's going to do his job, and that really not only is the way it should be, but the way it has to be."

Staats could be in a position to criticize and/or defend Wheeler, to discuss whether he is being treated fairly by an umpire or his manager and to describe an ugly incident or even injury. But he's certain he'll be able to call it like he sees it.

"I think the more games he's in, the more commonplace it will be," Staats said. "When he came into a game the first time here I might have found myself being just a little more reserved, kind of bare bones, 'Here it is ... ' I think it will work its way out."

Unrelated issues ...

- Stadium emcee Rusty Kath will be even more the center of attention than usual Tuesday when he is honored by his former team, the St. Paul (Minn.) Saints, on Rusty Kath Night. We're not sure we could properly describe the magnitude of this event, so here are excerpts from Saints promotions director Jack Weatherman's e-mail:

"The event is titled 'I Heart Rusty,' which was a slogan on one of our most popular T-shirts during his tenure. ... Festivities will include a tribute over the PA/videoboard ... and definitely a few bits making fun of him. That's the great thing about Rusty, we can joke around about how he looks like Ryan Seacrest and say he is vain/has a big ego, and he takes it as a compliment and rolls with it. He'll also be serenaded during Karaoke w/a Real Japanese Guy with Wind Beneath My Wings. ... We are giving out 2500 Rusty Kath Bobblejaw dolls also."

- Not too many 53-year-old men get their picture in Maxim magazine, but Joe Maddon did. We're just not sure that it was a good thing, since he was ranked sixth on Maxim's list of "Crappiest Baseball Managers," behind Phil Garner, Buddy Bell, Charlie Manuel, Ozzie Guillen and Ron Washington. (And just ahead of Ken Macha, who, as far as we know, is no longer with the A's.)