Beckham’s journey finally leads to Tampa
The Durham Bulls lost to the Omaha Storm Chasers in the Triple-A National Championship Game on Tuesday night, but there was still a celebration around Tim Beckham’s locker.
The Durham shortstop was accepting hugs and handshakes from a steady stream of teammates, who punctuated their congratulations with “Going to varsity!” “Going up!” and “Yeah, buddy!”
Getting called up to the major leagues seemed preordained when the Tampa Bay Rays selected the Georgia native with the No. 1 overall pick in 2008. But after five years of on-field struggles and off-the-field mistakes — including a 50-game drug suspension during the 2012 season — Beckham finally got the promotion he’s been waiting for.
As the Bulls were headed back to the locker room after the 2-1 loss at Coca-Cola Park, manager Charlie Montoyo called Beckham into his temporary office and handed the 23-year-old his itinerary for Tampa.
“It feels great; it’s been a long time coming,” Beckham said. “It’s been a long ride, but I grinded it out and I’m there. It seemed like a long time, but still I’m 23 years old. I’m still blessed with the same athletic ability, still blessed with the same skills, so who knows.”
After receiving a $6.15 million signing bonus, Beckham quickly advanced through the Rays system at first but stalled at Triple-A, where he’s been since August 2011. He hit .256 a year ago but was suspended after a second positive test for recreational drugs.
He raised his average to .276 this year, with four home runs, 51 RBIs and 17 steals in 122 games. That was enough for Tampa to give Beckham his first shot at the big leagues.
“As a competitor, and as a man, I’ve never lost confidence in myself,” Beckham said. “Without a doubt, I never thought I wasn’t going to be there. I knew I was going to be there. God willing, I’m there.”
Beckham’s confidence showed Tuesday night when he broke up a perfect game by Omaha starter Chris Dwyer with two outs in the seventh inning, hitting a sharp single through the right side.
“I wasn’t thinking about the guy throwing the ball well,” Beckham said. “When I’m at the plate, I think I can hit the ball 500 feet.”
But Beckham was the only runner to reach during Dwyer’s seven innings. Team MVP Leslie Anderson hit a pinch-hit home run in the eighth, but IL All-Star Vince Belnome struck out with two runners on base in the ninth to end Durham’s season.
Still, the Bulls finished 87-57 in the regular season, the third-most wins in team history, and won the Governors’ Cup for the fourth time in 11 years.
“It was an honor to play with everybody on this team — the best team I’ve ever been on,” Beckham said. “We’re still champions.”
Beckham will be joined in Tampa by championship game starter Jake Odorizzi, a 22-year-old who gave up one run in 18 postseason innings.
Others will be staying behind. While Beckham and Odorizzi left Montoyo’s office with good news, outfielder Brandon Guyer and reliever Jeff Beliveau were called in and told they wouldn’t be moving up.
Guyer was on a MLB rehab assignment after breaking a bone in his hand, while Beliveau had been called up three times by the Rays this season without appearing in a game.
It’s unclear how the Rays will use Beckham. But as one postseason run comes to a close, he is hoping that another is on the horizon. The Rays entered Wednesday’s game tied with Texas and a half-game ahead of Cleveland in the race for the two wild-card spots.
“I hope I can get up there and help the team out in Tampa, help them win games and help them produce,” Beckham said. “And who knows, hopefully I can be in the championship game in the big leagues.”