First-time All-Stars Justin Upton, Adam Jones look like they belong
Upton, 21, has already established career highs in home runs (16) and RBIs (52)
Jones, 23, is batting .303 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs for the young Orioles
They are two of the 26 first-time All-Stars in St. Louis
ST. LOUIS -- When he first found out he was going to the All-Star Game, Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks was lost and there was only one person he could turn to for advice: his teammate and fellow All-Star, Dan Haren. "I asked him everything, what do I do, what will everything be like, what will I wear."
On that last point at least, it was Upton who soon set the agenda. "I texted him [Monday] morning to ask him if he was wearing jeans or slacks," said Haren, a veteran of two All-Star Games. "He said he was wearing jeans, so I wore jeans."
True to form, Upton proved a quick study and a leader at a young age, the very traits that have landed him in the Midsummer Classic for the first time at 21, making him the youngest player here. Haren has called Upton "a special player" and "our Most Valuable Player this season," high praise coming from a man who's in contention for the Cy Young award.
Upton's eye-popping talent is certainly rare for a player so young, but he isn't the only one in St. Louis who combines extraordinary ability with youth. If Upton has a counterpart on the American League side, it is Adam Jones of the Orioles. Still just 23, Jones brings to St. Louis a bag of five tools and a sense of awe to match Upton's. "Wow, I walked into the AL meeting room and got to shake Mariano Rivera's hand! I've never met the man before. That was cool," said Jones, who added, "I'm a little nervous."
Upton and Jones had better get the first-time jitters out of the way, because if the script laid out by their talents and ages are any indication, they will soon be regulars at the Midsummer Classic. Sports are built on the promise of new stars succeeding the old, and at an All-Star Game that's notably missing both Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez (who each have 12 All-Star selections) Upton and Jones stand at the forefront of a new generation of players prepared to dominate the game, and at just the right time. As baseball emerges from one of its most controversial periods, it will be players such as Upton and Jones, unattached to the sordid era that preceded them, who can best chart a new course.
There are 26 first-time All-Stars here, but Jones and Upton are by far the most likely to become fixtures. Though they play for floundering teams -- Upton's D-backs are 18 1/2 games out in the NL West with a 38-51 record while Jones' Orioles are 40-48, last in the AL East -- their profiles have soared this season.
Upton, the younger brother of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder B.J. Upton, has already established career highs in home runs (16), RBIs (52), runs (55) and hits (95) while batting .301 with a .918 OPS. Jones is batting .303 with 12 home runs and 47 RBIs while fronting a talented and youthful roster in Baltimore.
Both are former first-round draft picks, and both entered pro ball in the drug-testing years (Upton went first overall in 2005 and Jones was the 37th pick in 2003), giving them welcome relief from suspicions that cloud so many others. Off the field, teammates and coaches rave about their work habits, and on the field, they are complete players with well-rounded skill sets. "[Upton] can beat you in every facet of the game," said Braves catcher Brian McCann. "Really you just hope you play him when he's not hot. He's their best player and the guy we focus on stopping."
Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett calls Jones' bat speed "unbelievable" and Royals manager Trey Hillman said, "He has athleticism plus the explosiveness in the athleticism," then adds with a laugh, "I've seen enough of him already. With no sugar-coating or embellishment, he's absolutely lit us up."
Despite this being their first All-Star Game, Jones and Upton have been household names in the baseball community for some time. Upton first arrived on the scene as B.J.'s younger brother in the Virginia-based youth baseball circuit that also produced David Wright of the Mets, Mark Reynolds of the Diamondbacks and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals. "Mostly I remember that Justin was our batboy," said Wright, who is five years older than Upton. "It seems like yesterday we were playing travel ball together, hitting in cages together. You always knew he had the talent and he's a physical specimen with all the athleticism in the world."
Upton's gifts led to his being taken first overall by Arizona in 2005, and he reached the majors the next year at 19. The less-heralded Jones took a different path. He grew up in San Diego and was drafted by the Mariners, becoming not only their top prospect but one of the most promising players in the game. He debuted with Seattle in 2006 but was traded to Baltimore before the 2008 season in the Erik Bedard deal. "I'm glad I got that prospect tag removed," he said. "We got back from a road trip to Seattle recently and it was like a regular road trip. My blood is Oriole-orange."
It was on that road trip that Jones was told he would be an All-Star for the first time. "My manager [Dave Trembley] came to me during batting practice on Saturday and took me to his office. He always goes through a whole long story, but as soon as he told me I was going to the All-Star Game, I don't even remember what he said after that. I went in my own zone."
By week's end the nerves will be gone and the two men will resume their careers at the forefront of the game's new wave of talent, with both pointing toward making this event an annual part of their summers. "This is awesome," said Upton, who added the exact words Jones would soon say himself. "Hopefully this isn't the last."
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