Justin Upton was checking into a hotel on Monday when something on the television behind the front desk caught his eye.
There was B.J. Upton, Justin's older brother by three years, striding to the plate at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., making his major league debut for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Justin, 16, watched intently as B.J. worked the count, then drew a walk against Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in his second at-bat.
"I was just so excited for him," Upton said. "Then I started thinking, 'Hopefully I'll be there [in the major leagues] soon.' "
Soon, in fact, could be just a few years away. Justin, a rising senior at Great Bridge High in Chesapeake, Va., is the top-ranked prep player in the country, according to many scouting publications, and is projected to be the first player chosen in the 2005 major league amateur draft. If that happens, he'll go one spot higher than B.J., who was chosen second overall by Tampa in 2002.
Tonight, Justin Upton will start at shortstop in the AFLAC All-American High School Baseball Classic at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md., where he will join 39 of the nation's best high school players for the second annual event.
After checking into the New York hotel, Justin Upton hurried to his room so he could watch the rest of his brother's debut. B.J. wound up going 1 for 3 with a single and a run scored in Tampa Bay's 6-3 loss. Justin Upton couldn't be there because he was scheduled to appear on ESPN's morning show, "Cold Pizza," on Tuesday to talk about his game, his brother's debut and the AFLAC Classic.
"When I talked to B.J. after [Monday's] game, I just told him that I was really happy for him," Justin Upton said. "When he was up there facing Wakefield, I was thinking about all the times he's faced me in our backyard."
Their father, Manny Upton, said the backyard games between his sons were intense. He recalled B.J. hurling inside fastballs at Justin, who he said always kept his nerve at the plate. Justin occasionally made solid contact, too.
"Justin had to grow up quick," Manny Upton said. "B.J. never treated him like a younger brother when they played in the backyard. He treated him like an equal."
Justin said: "B.J. beat me most of the time."
That was all part of the plan, according to B.J.
"I used to plunk him with a tennis ball all the time," B.J. Upton said yesterday by telephone from St. Petersburg. "I hit him hard and made sure he played with the older boys. It toughened him up."
Manny Upton works as an ACC men's basketball referee and starred at Norfolk State in baseball and football. He was also a scout for the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals. He said he knew early on that his sons had special abilities. But he didn't know how far it would take them.
"I was just hoping they would be successful," Manny Upton said. "Now for B.J. to be in the majors and Justin working hard to get there, it's really just unbelievable."
Although Justin is a few years away from playing in his first major league game, he's gotten an insider's view of it through conversations with B.J. this week. "He said it's an incredible feeling, " Justin Upton said. "I can just hope I get to experience the same thing someday."