Upton shares sports, name with father
Bossman Junior learned lessons in character through baseball
ST. PETERSBURG -- There is no denying the influence Manny Upton has had on his son B.J. in all aspects of life, from the game he's made a career out of, his personality -- even his name.
Born Melvin Emmanuel Upton, "B.J." is short for Bossman Junior, a title he picked up because his father was nicknamed Bossman. The original Bossman, father to B.J. and D-backs outfielder Justin Upton, was a football and baseball star at Norfolk State and passed his love for sports to his sons. B.J. soaked up whatever knowledge he could while growing up in the Chesapeake area of Virginia.
"I looked up to him a lot. I was always with him," B.J. said. "He's pretty much why I'm the person I am today. He was always all about baseball. That's kind of where I got it from."
But Manny didn't just pass along baseball knowledge to his oldest child. B.J. was a natural athlete, playing basketball and football in addition to baseball, and Manny viewed sports as a way to help shape his talented son as a person.
"Athletics, period, were a big focal point of both his and Justin's lives," Manny said. "We always stressed athletics to build character. You have to be resilient in what you do, and that carries over in life, too. Whatever you decide to do, there's going to be some stumbling blocks, and if you're resilient, you're going to be able to come back from it.
"In athletics, there's so much failure that helped build the person who he is, and it can help you through whatever slumps you're going through."
Baseball emerged as B.J.'s favorite sport -- much to the delight of his father "because of the big hits in football." Manny and his sons would work on their hitting at home when they were younger, as he believed instilling strong mechanics early in life would ensure proper technique when they grew up.
But one of the most important lessons B.J. learned from his father was not about hitting or fielding. Before his senior year, which B.J. entered as a highly regarded prospect with a future in the big leagues, Manny gave him some valuable advice.
"I told him, 'Go out and have fun, because the next time you play baseball, it may be for business,'" Manny said. "I think he kind of took that to heart and had a good time with his teammates his senior year.
"I don't think he put any pressure on himself, and I think that allowed him to have a good senior year."
Manny's simple reminder paid off for B.J. and his brother, as they became the first pair of brothers drafted within the top two picks in the First-Year Player Draft. B.J. went second overall in 2002, while Justin went first in '05.
Manny said he can remember his son's first game in the Majors, on Aug. 2, 2004, when Tampa Bay lost, 6-3 to Boston at Tropicana Field, and B.J. went 1-for-3 with a walk.
"It was overwhelming," Manny said. "We never put any pressure on him to make it to the big leagues, so that was a dream come true for him, as well as for my wife and I."
B.J. has made the most of that opportunity, as he played a key role on the 2008 Rays squad that made a miraculous run to the World Series. This season, it was one particular off-the-field action that made Manny proud.
On May 10, when the Rays were on the West Coast in the middle of a nine-game stint away from Tropicana Field, B.J.'s girlfriend gave birth to Riley Emmanuel Upton. B.J. flew from Anaheim back to Tampa, missing the team's game Monday to see his first-born son.
Rather than skip the remainder of Tampa Bay's series in Anaheim, B.J. then turned around and flew back to rejoin his team.
"These guys, we're here together," B.J. said on May 11 upon returning. "Obviously, at home is where I want to be. But we're going home tomorrow, and she's in good hands. My family's there. They reassured me that they had everything under control."
B.J. talked to Manny about the decision, but the senior Bossman refused to make a choice for his son -- he wanted him to make the call on his own.
"I was more proud of his decision to go back, given how tough it was for me when my first child was born. I didn't want to go anywhere," Manny said. "I think that decision showed he wanted to be there for his first-born, yet he still had his commitment to the team."
It's a little difficult for Riley to fully comprehend how much his father went through for him, given the fact that he isn't old enough to move around quite yet, B.J. said. But B.J. can understand the importance of his father's impact on his life -- something Manny has always tried to keep in mind.
"I try to live so that I can be a role model for both my sons," Manny said. "Hopefully I have been there for both of them."
Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.