A Ray Of Hope

By Fred Goodall
Updated: June 20, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Tim Beckham used one word to describe how it felt to walk into the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse and spot a jersey with his name on the back hanging in a locker next to established major leaguers.

“Sweet,” the talented high school shortstop from Griffin, Ga., said Thursday.

The Rays were all smiles, too, after taking just two weeks to sign the No. 1 pick in this month’s baseball draft.

Beckham agreed to a contract that includes a $6.15 million signing bonus. He will join older brother Jeremy — a second baseman selected in the 17th round — in beginning his pro career with Tampa Bay’s Rookie League affiliate in Princeton, W.Va.

“This is what I’ve been wishing for my whole life. It’s a dream come true,” Beckham said prior to slipping on a uniform and taking batting practice before the Rays played the Chicago Cubs at Tropicana Field.

Both sides thought speedy negotiations were imperative so Beckham could get started in the minor leagues as soon as possible. The Rays also had the No. 1 pick last year, but didn’t sign David Price until mid-August – too late for the hard-throwing left-hander to pitch in the minors last season.

Beckham’s minor league deal is worth less than the $11.25 million, six-year major league contract that Price signed in 2007.

Price, currently at Class-A Vero Beach, received a $5.6 million signing bonus and is guaranteed $8.5 million as part of his deal.

“We did as much homework as we could,” Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “Getting him out and playing right away was incredibly important to us, and everything we got back was that it was important to them as well.”

The Rays signed Jeremy Beckham, an infielder out of Georgia Southern, five days after the draft and he is already playing at Princeton.

Tim will report on Sunday, then take a few days to get into baseball shape before making his debut.

He can’t wait to be reunited with his brother. He credits Jeremy for rekindling his passion for baseball after the 18-year-old gave up the sport for three years to concentrate on his other love, basketball.

“It’s very special. He’s a big inspiration in my life,” Tim said. “He’s why I’m here today.”

Beckham is the third high school shortstop taken No. 1 overall in the last five years, joining Justin Upton (Arizona, 2005) and Matt Bush (San Diego, 2004).

He batted .482 with six homers, 13 doubles and 41 RBIs as a senior after establishing himself as the nation’s top prospect with stellar performances at last summer’s high school showcase events.

The Rays, who have one of the youngest rosters in baseball and are off to the best start in franchise history, stress they don’t have a timetable for Tim Beckham reaching the majors. He’s not placing any undue pressure on himself, either.

“I’m ready to just play. … This is what I love to do. I’ll just keep giving 110 percent every day in practice and on the field, and we’ll see how long it takes,” said Beckham, who felt comfortable settling into a locker next to one occupied by B.J. Upton.

“It’s exciting. It’s not overwhelming at all,” he said. “It’s a crazy feeling right now. I can’t really put it into words.”