Former Tidewater Mets reunited in NL East
Teammates in youth, Uptons, Wright and Zimmerman now division rivals
ATLANTA -- More than a decade has passed since B.J. Upton, Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright last played together with the Tidewater Mets, a star-studded high school travel squad that included Justin Upton, an ambitious young tagalong who wanted to do whatever he could to be part of his older brother's team.
Since then, the Upton brothers, Zimmerman and Wright have gone their separate ways and established themselves as stars at the Major League level. Spread across four regions of the United States, they made every effort to stay in touch and maintain the friendships that were built as they honed their talents while growing up in the same southeastern Virginia region known as Tidewater.
"It's weird, because we're all very close," Wright said. "So it's kind of fun to reminisce a little bit where, 15, 16 years ago we were playing travel ball together, and going up to the cages together, and talking about what it would be like to play in the big leagues, and dreaming about it. It feels like you flip the page and all of a sudden you get a chance to live out that dream."
Now the fulfillment of these dreams can be shared together. By acquiring both Uptons this winter, the Braves provided the brothers a chance to play together and become part of the National League East rivalry that Zimmerman and Wright have shared over the past eight years.
"That's pretty exciting," B.J. Upton said. "We've already had that conversation and talked a little bit of trash to each other."
Having established himself as the Mets' starting third baseman in 2004, Wright stands as this new rivalry's elder statesman. Thus it seems only fitting that he has so far been the one most frequently stirring the pot with his childhood friends.
"David talks a good game," B.J. said. "But we can get in Dave's dome pretty easy. Ryan is pretty stoic. He's like, 'Whatever.' But we all can really get [Justin] going, because he was always the little guy. We wore him out as a kid."
That little kid who once served as batboy and occasional pinch-runner for his older brother's team has enhanced the confidence that the Braves can prevent Zimmmerman and the Nationals from winning a second consecutive division crown.
Part one of this Tidewater NL East rivalry will take place this weekend as the Braves carry their Major League-best 8-1 record into a three-game series against the Nats at Nationals Park.
"We all enjoy playing against each other, and we keep in touch," Zimmerman said. "Whenever anybody does anything good, we'll text each other or something like that. It's a friendly competition. Now that we're all in the same division, we all want our teams to win. But when you have a bond like that and the relationships we've had, I think that's something that will last for a long, long time."
When Wright and B.J. Upton made their Major League debuts 12 days apart during the 2004 season, they fulfilled the dreams that began nurturing when they began playing youth football and baseball together around the age of 10. They were part of an AAU team called the Virginia Blasters. Zimmerman spent most of his earliest years playing for the Tidewater Drillers, a rival club from the region
But once they reached high school, they were joined together on the Tidewater Mets. B.J. played shortstop. Wright was at third base, and Zimmerman shared time at second base with Mark Reynolds, who played with Justin Upton in Arizona and now serves as the Indians' designated hitter.
"They were better than everybody else," said Justin Upton, who is three years younger than his brother. "They were fun to watch. They all could do everything."
B.J. believes the team lost just four times in a span of three years. While he does not remember the opponent, the Braves center fielder has not forgotten losing to a pitcher "who was throwing 78 [mph]" in the semifinals of a Perfect Game tournament. A win would have provided the chance to play against a team that featured Scott Kazmir.
"To play together growing up, and then for so many of us from the same time period to make it to the big leagues, that's a feat in itself," Zimmerman said. "For a bunch of us now to be able to play against each other so much with all of us being in the same division, it's a cool story."
As B.J. was playing for the Rays and Justin for the D-backs, there were occasions when they would cross paths with their former childhood teammates. They have all attended weddings together and competed in some of the same charity golf tournaments.
But for the first time in more than a decade, they will all see each other on a frequent basis. Approximately 25 percent of the games the Nationals, Braves and Mets play this year will serve as a reunion for the former Tidewater Mets.
"It's a lot of fun," Wright said. "When B.J. signed with Atlanta, and then [the Braves] traded for Justin, my initial reaction was like, 'Oh, that's cool.' And then I thought about it and I was like, 'Ahh, maybe not so cool.'"
The arrival of the Upton brothers in Atlanta has certainly altered the complexion of things in the NL East. In addition, it has provided childhood friends a chance to truly realize their dreams together.
"We kind of push each other and joke around with each other," Zimmerman said. "But it's pretty cool. It's not something that happens too often."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.