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Beckham singles, scores in first pro game06/26/2008 10:28 PM ET
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
PRINCETON, W. Va. -- It wasn't one for the history books, but at least it can be said that the professional baseball career of Tim Beckham has officially begun.
Hitting second as the designated hitter for the Princeton Rays, Tampa's affiliate in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft didn't hit a ball out of the infield. He did go 1-for-4, though, with an infield single and a run scored in a 7-6 win over Burlington here at Hunnicut Field.
"It felt great just being here, playing with my brother and with the Tampa Bay Rays playing such good baseball," said Beckham, the Griffin, Ga. shortstop who signed officially June 19 and is on the Princeton roster with his older brother Jeremy, a 17th-round selection. "I've been so antsy to play and I helped get a win. We won by a run and I scored one."
It was easy to see how amped up the prep star was. Waiting in the on-deck circle watching leadoff hitter Diogenes Luis hit, Beckham was more than halfway to the plate after Luis hit a tapper foul. Once he did get up there after Luis flied out, he didn't waste much time in taking his first pro swing. With a one-ball count, he hit Mike Lehman's fastball back up the middle. Burlington second baseman Angel Franco was able to backhand it, but his throw was much too late to get the speedy Beckham.
"I haven't seen that much live pitching," Beckham said. "I wasn't looking for an offspeed pitch because I haven't seen that [in a while]. I knew that the first fastball I saw, I was going to swing at it."
Beckham grounded out in his next three at-bats -- to the second baseman in the second, to the shortstop to end the fourth and a tapper back to the mound in the seventh. While it might have been storybook for him to have gone 4-for-4 with a home run, the important point was simply that Thursday night was the day it all began.
"He's been chomping at the bit for the past couple of days," said Jim Hoff, the Tampa Rays' Minor League field coordinator, who was in attendance. "He got a hit in his first at-bat, he scored a run, he was involved. Now he can get on with being a baseball player."
His complete profile as a player involves playing shortstop, of course, but there's no timetable as to when he'll take the field for Princeton. The plan was to have him DH again Friday and then assess when would be the best time to have him play defense.
Over the past several years, the No. 1 overall pick -- not to mention many first-rounders in general -- have not signed as quickly as Beckham did. Beckham's organization-mate, David Price, didn't pitch last summer at all, though that's not as surprising as a college pitcher. Neither did No. 1 pick Luke Hochevar, who made just four starts in 2006.
A better comparison -- not only because the two have been compared before but because both came out as high school postion players -- is Justin Upton. Upton, taken No. 1 overall in 2005, didn't sign until the offseason and thus made his pro debut the following April. Beckham is, in other words, way ahead of the game just by getting at-bats under his belt while it's still June.
"The only thing he needs to do now is learn what his job is," Hoff said. "You learn from experience and the only way to really get that is in games. He'll be getting a lot more at-bats than a lot of No. 1 picks this year, for sure."
"It's big," Beckham agreed. "All the at-bats are going to help me with my future. If I see more at-bats, I'll learn more and I'll play well. If I play well, I'll be able to move up more quickly in the future."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.