PHOENIX -- Four days before Justin Upton makes his return to Chase Field for the first time with the Braves, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson spoke Thursday about his much-discussed rapport with the slugger, who was once the cornerstone of the Arizona franchise before being traded to Atlanta in the offseason.
"I hear a lot of people say we didn't have a good relationship, but I disagree," Gibson said. "I enjoyed my time with him."
At the time of Upton's callup to the Majors in 2007, Gibson was the D-backs' bench coach. Over the next six years, the pair continued to work together through good times and bad. In 2011, Upton hit 31 homers, drove in 88 runs and finished fourth the National League MVP balloting. A year later though, the outfielder took a step back in his production in 2012, collecting 17 home runs and 67 RBIs while playing through a thumb injury and multiple trade rumors.
Upton and the D-backs finally parted ways in January as part of the seven-player deal that sent the former No. 1 pick to Atlanta and Martin Prado to Arizona.
"I worked with Justin since he came up as a little kid," Gibson said. "He had a tough year last year and there were a lot of reasons for it. I understood his frustrations because I went through a lot of the same when I was a young player."
Gibson acknowledged some of the negative attention the trade has received, but he added that deals are not always so black and white.
"The reality of it is sometimes you have to trade a really good player to fulfill your needs and we certainly did that," he said. "It was a bold move in many eyes but [D-backs general manager Kevin Towers] has the experience and I think he did a great job. Justin Upton busted his ass when he was here, let's not forget about that. But that's just baseball, guys are going to get traded, it doesn't have to be a bad thing."
Despite Upton's resounding success so far this year for Atlanta -- 12 homers, 21 RBIs and the April NL Player of the Month Award -- Gibson still wishes his former player the best, except when faces the D-backs.
"I don't root against him, I want him to play well," Gibson said. "But at the same time we're going to try to beat him when he comes here. He knows that and he going to try to get me, and I respect that."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.