Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton turns 24 on Thursday, enjoying his fifth season in the major leagues. At age 19, Upton made his major league debut on Aug. 2, 2007 and played in 43 games during the Diamondbacks' pennant race, relying on veterans on the team to gain experience.
Upton said he concentrated on his job in those first few weeks in the big leagues. He didn't let the moment get away from him and made sure to work hard in every at-bat and every fly ball that came his way.
"It was definitely a different experience," Upton said. "You try to learn from those (veteran) guys. You just try to come up and fit in. At first, just play your role, and then, when you get more comfortable the easier to relate to the guys."
The Nationals' No. 1 prospect, outfielder Bryce Harper, is just 18 years old, but has accelerated from low Single-A Hagerstown Suns to Double-A Harrisburg Senators in half a season. He has been able to connect from the plate at both levels, leading many to speculate if he would follow those footsteps and make his major league debut some time in 2012 at the same age Upton began, 19.
Upton came into his own in 2009 at age 21, hitting .300 and driving in 86 RBIs. He said a belief in his talents at a young age helped him gain confidence and feel like he belonged.
"You can't forget to have fun and just go out and enjoy the game," Upton said. "You are obviously in the big leagues at the age because of your talent. You got to go out and play and let that talent show and not worry so much about the results."
Upton said the fans didn't get on him like they are Harper because the hype machine is a little different these days. But he said that belief is what Harper needs to carry to keep going on a positive path. Upton never let that confidence waiver and that has guided him to where he is today with Diamondbacks. He sees a similar track for Harper.
"You are there for a reason," Upton said. "You have a lot more hype than I ever had. He is in the national spotlight. There are a lot of people out there try to cut you down and make you feel like you don't belong but he is the No. 1 pick for a reason. He is very talented. He is doing what he is doing in the minor leagues because of that talent and he just needs to go out and play the game."