Where will you go, Justin Upton? Our city turns its lonely eyes to you (Ou-ou-ou).
Following two seasons of listless Missoula Osprey baseball (it got so dismal last year that general manager Matt Ellis publicly complained to the parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, about supplying sub-par talent); last year’s celebrated opening of a potentially gorgeous ballpark (it’s not done yet, and financing to complete the stadium has stalled); and this season’s unprecedentedly poor start (winless in its first seven games and outscored by a staggering total of 123-50 in its first 13), our local boys of summer seem to be in desperate need of a spark.
With little place left to turn for salvation, Upton has become a distant beacon of hope. The 18-year-old shortstop from Chesapeake, Va., was the first overall pick in this year’s amateur baseball draft and has been earmarked for assignment to Missoula. But first the “can’t miss” prospect needs to sign a professional contract with the Diamondbacks.
“Signing Upton wouldn’t only be huge for Missoula, but for the entire region,” says Ellis. “We’ve done research and no other top pick has ever played in the Pioneer League.”
Despite optimistic reports from Arizona about the negotiations, if the past is any indication Missoula may have a long wait: Arizona’s top pick a year ago didn’t sign until 11 months after the draft and Upton’s older brother, also a highly touted high school shortstop who was drafted second overall in 2002 by Tampa Bay, didn’t ink his contract until after that season’s minor league schedule was over. Baseball America reports that Arizona opened discussions with a $4 million signing bonus offer, while Upton’s adviser, Larry Reynolds, countered with a $5.5 million request. In other words, Upton’s imminent arrival in Missoula may not be so imminent.
“We’re ready for him if he comes,” says the optimistic Ellis, adding that this summer’s roster is stocked with the Ospreys’ best pitching talent in years; it’s the offense that’s wanting.
Let us be the first to openly plead for Upton’s quick arrival in the Garden City. The Osprey’s cheap ticket prices, fan-friendly promotions, delicious hot dogs and comfy (even if unfinished) digs make for some of the best evenings in town, but sooner or later the product on the field has to equal the quality around it. Upton would be the closest thing we’ve had to a local summer sports star since Lyle Overbay patrolled the Osprey infield and won the League MVP—and that was six years ago. Upton probably couldn’t point to Missoula on a map, but right now he’s the only one local fans can point to for help in a season that, like others of late, is looking a lot like a whiff.