LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Two pitches after Jason Heyward lined a home run over the right-field fence in the fourth inning Monday, Justin Upton hit one over everything in left field at Champion Stadium. Over the fence, the grass berm, advertisement flags atop the berm, another fence -- everything.
“Second-longest home run I’ve seen in a game,” Heyward said of the Upton blast, which hit the top of a tree beyond the berm and cleared a chain-link fence between the backside of the berm and the players’ parking lot.
No one could remember a longer homer hit to left field since Champion Stadium opened in 1997, not even in batting practice. The general consensus was it traveled at least 450 feet, which may have been a conservative estimate.
“When you see your teammate do it, you want to jump on the train,” Upton said of following Heyward’s second homer in as many days. “I’m not going to say (that he ever hit one further). That’s every bit I’ve got right there.”
Both home runs came off Marlins left-hander Scott Maine in a 7-6 Braves win, their first in four Grapefruit League games. Maine gave up four homers in seven innings with the Cubs two years ago, and has allowed eight homers in 46-2/3 career innings. It’s doubtful any were hit harder than the one Upton pulverized.
It was the first hit in three spring games for Upton, who got the traditional first-hit silent treatment from teammates when he returned to the dugout. He added an RBI single in the fifth inning, and older brother B.J. Upton went 2-for-3 including an RBI double and a stolen base in the three-run fourth inning.
“That’s going to be fun to watch," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the middle of his batting order, with the Upton brothers and Heyward. "Because they have that capability to go back-to-back, or get a single and steal a base, too.”
This was the kind of scenario the Braves and their fans envisioned after a trade last month brought Justin Upton to Atlanta from Arizona to join B.J. (who signed as a free agent in November) and Heyward in an outfield that packs a lot of power and speed.
Heyward’s homer was his second in as many days, after a line-drive homer to straightaway center Sunday at Bradenton, Fla. The one he hit Monday didn’t take much longer to get out of the ballpark than his low-liner Sunday. But then Upton one-upped him.
Upton’s homer was a no-doubt-about-it shot from the time it left his bat, hit so high that it appeared level with the tops of the outfield light towers. It’s rare even for a ball hit during batting practice at Champion Stadium to reach the top of the grass seating berm. Upton’s homer sailed high over it, and over the metal faux pennants that serve as billboards affixed to poles atop the berm.
Asked how it felt to hit a ball as hard as that, Upton said, "You don’t feel anything, really. I’ve hit a few that I’ve kind of let it loose on and happened to square. I hit a couple in the restaurant (in second deck, left-center field at Arizoa's Chase Field) that kind of feel the same like that. Everything just happens to sync up and you square it up.”
Heyward said the only ball he’d seen hit that far to left at Champion Stadium was also by Upton, during batting practice a week ago.
“And (to do it) at game speed? Wow,” Heyward said. “I’m kind of interested to see what it’s going to be like when we get to real-game speed and the adrenaline. It’s a dangerous lineup from any point. You’ve got home runs, you’ve got speed, you’ve got guys who are going to put the ball in play hard.”
Heyward also said the only longer homer he ever saw was hit by former teammate Cody Johnson in a Class-A game at Asheville, N.C., which Heyward insisted traveled “at least 600 feet.” That homer has become legendary in Asheville and most estimates put it at 515-525 feet.
Heyward was in the dugout Monday when Upton went deep.
“I was standing right by where the bats and helmets are,” he said. “I saw him hit it and I was just like, OK, that’s high, far, and it’s loud.”