B.J. Upton is arguably the best athlete among the Rays and one of the elite in the majors, with a combination of speed, strength, agility and grace that makes it seem anything is possible any time he steps on the field. But for the next month, he will be the one watching in awe. Soccer's World Cup is under way, and Upton is the leader of a group of Rays who are big fans of the game and the players.
"You hear a lot of people knock the sport," Upton said. "But to be able to handle the ball like they do — with their feet — and to run that much, close to 4-5 miles a game, at the same time, that's tough to do."
Upton played soccer as a kid, as did Grant Balfour, Wade Davis, Matt Garza, Evan Longoria, Dioner Navarro and David Price, among other Rays. (But definitely not Willy Aybar: "You have to run too much.")
Upton also is big into soccer video games, spending many of his spring training evenings playing, and beating up on, Price. ("He's pretty good," Price reluctantly admitted. "But I've been playing a lot. I feel pretty good.")
Upton is rooting hard for the U.S. team, and his interest led to a role in an Adidas campaign to garner fans. Upton's favorite player is forward Jozy Altidore, and he'll wear Altidore's No. 17 jersey on the Rays' World Cup-themed flight to Atlanta on Monday.
With prodding, Upton said he could see himself as a speedy midfielder or forward but acknowledged that without considerable improvement in his skills, he'd have to stick to defense. Upton also said there's no way, even in good shape, that he could stay on the field for anywhere near 90 minutes with the real players.
"No chance," he said. "No chance. You won't see me on the pitch."
Vote for B.J.
Upton is one of four sports stars — joining the Magic's Dwight Howard, the Saints' Reggie Bush and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. — campaigning to get fans for the U.S. team in the World Cup. Bush is going to South Africa, but Upton and the others will participate with videos, interactive quizzes, and online and social media events through the Adidas soccer Facebook page (facebook.com/adidassoccer). There is also a competition among the four at the site to see who gets the most fans. The losers, Bush said, have to wear the "winner's gear."
A Huff and a puff
When Aubrey Huff left the Rays in a July 2006 trade, he was their all-time leader in eight offensive categories. Thursday night, Huff's name was erased for the final time when Carlos Peña bumped him from the top spot by hitting his 129th homer. Huff, never much of a sentimentalist, wasn't exactly broken up. "That's such a shame," he said from San Francisco, in full mock disappointment. "There's such history. What are you going to do?" Huff, now a Giant, would have considered sending Peña something but said they exchanged bats last year, when Huff was with the Orioles. ("He wrote something very nice. I have it in my house," Peña said.) Plus, Huff still holds a few of the Rays' season records (all from 2003), including games played (162), doubles (47), extra-base hits (84), total bases (353) and, most surprising, hits (198). "Somebody hasn't gotten that one yet?" Huff asked. His pick to do so? Carl Crawford.
Just to be clear, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce endorses building a new stadium as long as the Rays uphold their lease and stay in the city limits, but it wants them to break their lease in Port Charlotte to move spring training back? … Ex-Ray Aubrey Huff's mom, Fonda, a longtime educator, is running for the District 2 at-large seat on the Pinellas County School Board. See fondahuff.homestead.com for info. … David Price's dad, Bonnie,has some 230 friends making the four-hour trip from Murfreesboro, Tenn., to see the Rays in Atlanta this week, all wearing Price No. 14 T-shirts. … To do last week's job swap, Durham radio man Neil Solondz and Rays pre- and postgame host Rich Herrera had to cover their air fare and used each other's cars. The teams picked up hotel expenses. … The top two unsigned draft picks, No. 17 Josh Sale and No. 42 Drew Vettleson, have the same adviser, which could be convenient. … Huff said ex-Ray and new teammate Pat Burrell, who homered Friday, looks like his old self with the Giants: "He just needed to get out there in the field and play every day." … Jays manager Cito Gaston said the Rays "probably have the best five starters in baseball." … Among the more interesting draft picks, No. 36 RHP Robert Dickmann studied biology in the Galapagos Islands and Amazon rain forest of Ecuador while at Pepperdine.
Got a minute? David Price
Best meal you can make? Spaghetti with meatballs (that he buys) and sauce (that he buys) and Parmesan cheese (that he buys). It's really good.
Karaoke song if you had to? Probably Famous by Trey Songz
Time-killer at the mall? Probably the food court. I don't really hang out at the mall too much.
Late-night TV? The National Geographic channel or anything on Animal Planet.
Dream date? I'll go with Meagan Good.