COVID-19 and stay-home orders have impacted all people and industries — including baseball. In time for Father’s Day, we spoke with Los Angeles Angels baseball outfielder Justin Upton to get a glimpse of a professional athlete and father living life in the age of coronavirus.
Los Angeles Angels outfielder
City: Newport Beach
Family: Wife, Ashley; daughters, Sydnee, 4, and Evyn, 1
Los Angeles Angels player: Since 2017
How long did you know you wanted to be a professional baseball player?
“I started playing when I was 4 years old and I think about age 13, 14 [I thought,] ‘All right, maybe I could do this.’ I still kind of played other sports. Baseball was my first love so at that point I started to focus on it a little more.”
What inspired you and your brother, Melvin, to become professional baseball players?
“My dad was a big baseball fan. He introduced us to the game. … We played a lot together. He’s my older brother. I just kind of followed in his footsteps.”
How much did you help each other coming up in the major leagues?
“He helped me quite a bit. He’d already been there. … I was able to ask him questions and kind of talk about things.”
Your dad must have been thrilled to have two sons playing baseball.
“He still loves it to this day. This is killing him going in quarantine and no baseball. He and our mom have been our biggest fans.”
How much are you guys depending on family now to get through these weird times?
“My brother lives in Florida and my parents live in Virginia. We haven’t seen them in months. My wife’s family is local. Her mom lives in Huntington Beach and her sister has come out and helped us out here. We depend on them quite a bit. Helps us pretty much every day with the kids.”
Clearly baseball is in the family. How are you passing the lessons of baseball that you grew up with onto your daughters?
“Baseball is a game of failure. I know it’s cliche. They say you fail 70 percent of the time and you’re a Hall of Famer. I fail quite more than 70 percent of the time [laughs]. Teaching them to kind of have thick skin. You’re gonna fail at things. You’re not gonna succeed all the time. So being able to accept those failures and move on and become better. … No matter what when I see them I have a smile on my face … no matter what if Daddy fails or succeeds, I still have a smile on my face. I enjoy the game and I enjoy being around my family.”
What’s your favorite thing about baseball?
“Obviously the competition is my favorite part, but the most interesting part about it for me is that no matter what you do today … baseball we play almost every day of the week. We very rarely have off days. I get to go home, go to sleep and try it again tomorrow.”
Does Sydnee play or enjoy baseball?
“We play catch, we hit in the backyard. It’s more of us having fun together right now. … I don’t want to force them to do anything that they don’t want to do. [Sydnee] loves it, but she loves playing with Dad in the yard, so that’s what we’re gonna do for now.”
How has fatherhood changed you?
“It’s changed my perspective I would say. I was extremely hard on myself early on in my career. After the game, I’d take those things home with me … think about it all night long. Now, I’m able to shut off baseball for my life away from baseball. My wife and kids are always waiting for me at home.”
What is your parenting style?
“Usually during the season, I’m the fun guy. … When I get up in the morning, I play with Sydnee and Evyn for my three hours that I’m home. Right now I’m a little more hands on, because I’m home all day. Having two little girls is really tough for me to be the tough guy. So I leave that to my wife. I’m a hands-on parent and I let my wife handle the girls when they’re not being very good.”
With Mike Trout about to have his first child, have you offered up any advice for him?
“Our wives get a routine when we’re away. They’re so used to running the ship. All we do when we’re home … is we mess up their rhythm. It’s trying to help without messing up the process. They’re the real glue. They do the real work throughout the day. Help where you can, don’t mess up her rhythm. … When you throw off their routines, it’s never good.”
We are living through unprecedented times. It’s had an impact on everyone in the world, including professional sports. How are you adapting to the “new normal” at home and professionally?
“It’s more like the off season for us. We’re obviously not playing but we still have to be prepared to play. So we’re training and doing the stuff we do in the off season to stay prepared in case we do play. For a lot of guys who have families, I’m sure they would echo the same thing: This is time that we usually don’t get when it’s warm outside, it’s springtime. Usually this is when we’re working. Try to soak it all in. Spend the time with your family. Obviously you can’t be out and about. Getting out in the yard, playing with the kids. Spending as much time with them as you can. In a way this has been good, because you’re getting time with your family that you don’t usually get.”
How are you spending time with your family?
“Sydnee can go from sun up to sun down. She always wants you to come in her playroom and play with all her toys. We’ve been watching a lot of Disney movies. We get outside. She has her little golf clubs and baseball bats. We have a pretty busy schedule over here. Me and my wife bought bikes. So we try to go for a family bike ride every day. We’ll go ‘til the baby starts crying in the carrier behind us.”
Has home-schooling your kids become part of your daily activities?
“Syd’s been in school. … Her school does online videos that she’ll watch in the morning, and then we’ll let her have a little bit of playtime. And then there’s usually worksheets that you can print off and she can do. The rest of the day is kind of a crazy atmosphere because once she gets her work done, she goes nuts. My wife does the schooling and stuff for her because she was a teacher at one time. I’m off the hook on that one. My wife likes to run the show on that, so I back away and am out in the corner.”
What has this been like for your family?
“We’ve adjusted. Honestly, with baseball, most of the time they spend a lot of time at home, and then going out is to the ballpark, or during the day she’ll take Sydnee to the park. This is semi-normal for them but we’re spending a lot more time in the house than they usually do. Sydnee’s used to being in the house and playing and being in the yard. We’ve done OK with it. Syd she’s starting to like get a little antsy to get back out and be with friends and people her age. … She understands as far as a 4-year-old can understand it. But I think the biggest thing is she loves being in school and playing with her friends. That’s the part she can’t really get a grasp on. She understands that she can’t but she really wants to. ‘I understand why I can’t go, I understand that I can’t play with my friends, but I want to.’ The two thoughts, they don’t match.”
— By Jessica Peralta