Upton joins Ali in community efforts

By Steve Gilbert
Updated: December 26, 2009

Justin Upton

Justin Upton

PHOENIX — Ask baseball scouts about D-backs outfielder Justin Upton and they will tell you he has the potential to be great.

Recently Upton got to spend some time with Muhammad Ali, a man with the nickname “The Greatest,” when the former heavyweight champ cut the ribbon at the new Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center in Phoenix.

“Just to have an opportunity to be here with the champ, it’s amazing,” Upton said. “This is an impressive place and it lets you see what he’s done, the impact that he’s had for this cause. To be able help a little bit is an honor.”

Upton was in attendance because he is helping to raise money for Ali’s cause.

The 22-year-old donated a chance to play a softball game at Chase Field following next season, with Upton and some of his teammates and friends from around the game. The experience will be auctioned off at Ali’s Celebrity Fight Night, which will take place on March 20.

The visit with Ali was just another step in the process for Upton as he tries to make his mark in the community and not just on the baseball field.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, Upton long admired Ali from afar and was thrilled when he got the opportunity to sit with him after the ribbon cutting.

“I didn’t get to see him during his fighting days, but he’s still the champ,” Upton said. “Getting to meet him is a big deal.

Seeing this place inspires me to find the cause or causes that I can give back to.”

“I’ve always thought it was important to give back. Now I have more of an opportunity and if I keep building myself on the field, I can have an even bigger impact. ”

Upton recently hosted a golf tournament along with Angels outfielder Torii Hunter with the proceeds going to raise money for children’s character programs.

Hunter and Upton got hooked up because they are both clients of agent Larry Reynolds.

“He’s just a step ahead of folks from an understanding of his value standpoint,” Reynolds said of Upton. “He was raised properly and his parents instilled him with some values that aren’t going to go away. The stuff that he learned as a youngster being around his mom and dad, I think has had obviously a tremendous impact.”

Upton is still working to find what charity or charities he wants to put all his efforts behind, so for now he’s helping a variety of them.

“Where do I fit in helping out in the community?” Upton said.

“It’s going to be a big part for me, but it’s a process right now of doing a little bit here and a little bit there and getting a feel for what I like to do and what I have a passion for.”

“Once I do find that, it’s going to be a big deal for me to focus on it and do as much as I can for it. Obviously helping kids is going to be part of it because that’s a passion for me.”

Upton continued his progression as a baseball player last season when he hit .300 with 30 doubles, 26 homers and 86 RBIs and participated in his first All-Star Game.

“That’s obviously my first priority, my play on the field,” he said. “But at the same time with success on the field comes responsibility off it.”

Upton, it seems, is ready to take on both.