In the summer of 2004, scout Clarence Johns stopped by a summer league tryout on the south side of Atlanta. After five years with the Dodgers, Johns recently had joined the Rockies, and the first player who caught his eye was just 14.
As he and Atlanta Blue Jays travel team coach Anthony Dye discussed the team’s prospects, Johns immediately became enamored with Tim Beckham.
“He wasn’t even supposed to be out there,” Johns recalled. “But I immediately asked A.D., ‘Who’s that guy?’ He said, ‘He’s just a freshman.’ And I said, ‘Who cares? He’s your best player.’ He already had the size, and just the way he moved—his actions were so athletic, so fluid and everything he did was natural.”
Beckham didn’t make the Blue Jays senior squad that summer, but three years later Johns looks like a fortune teller, as the slick-fielding, easy-swinging shortstop has developed into the top high school prospect in the country, and is Baseball America’s 2007 Youth Player of the Year.
Beckham grew up about an hour south of Atlanta in the small town of Griffin, Ga. The youngest of Jimmy and Ella Beckham’s three sons, Tim spent his days in Griffin like most of his classmates—playing football and basketball. The town of approximately 23,000 has produced almost a dozen players who went on to play in the National Football League, including Cowboys Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright and former Bears receiver Willie Gault.
As a lean swingman in basketball and quick quarterback and wide receiver in football, Beckham looked like he could be the next in that line as an eighth grader. But that summer was when he started spending more time on baseball fields with his oldest brother, Jeremy. Jeremy invited Tim to a couple of out-of-town tournaments, and the two of them spent time with Dye in the batting cage and sitting up late at night talking baseball.
Jeremy recognized his little brother’s potential and encouraged him to make baseball a priority in his life. Tim started tagging along wherever Jeremy went, and when Jeremy accepted a scholarship at Georgia Southern, Tim realized how serious he’d have to take the game in order to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
“I didn’t lose passion for (baseball), but I fell in love with basketball and stopped playing baseball for about three years,” Tim said. “My brother kept telling me how good I could be. He said that’s my meal ticket out of Griffin. So I gotta take it.”
Summer Of Ascension
Soon Beckham’s tickets were for airlines. As a junior at Griffin High, Beckham batted .512 with nine doubles, six triples, six home runs, 39 RBIs and 20 stolen bases before flying to Cincinnati for the summer’s first showcase. It was the first leg of a whirlwind summer that Tim, his parents and Dye mapped out to maximize his exposure.
His name was already on the amateur scouting map—he ranked No. 5 among underclassmen at a major wood bat tournament in Jupiter, Fla., in October of 2006—but the masses didn’t yet know just how good Beckham could be.
It was in Marietta, Ga., at the World Wood Bat Association 17-Under summer championship, where he really began to find his groove at the plate. He blistered practically anything near the strike zone and played superb defense, and was ranked as the event’s No. 1 prospect out of more than 2,000 in attendance.
Hundreds of scouts and a national television audience watched Beckham patiently work counts against some of the top high school pitchers in the country at the Aflac Classic in August in San Diego. He delivered a pair of sacrifice flies, a walk and an RBI triple on his way to MVP honors.
Without pretension, Beckham beamed as he held up the trophy, and his thick Southern accent had a disarming quality with the crowd of California reporters that surrounded him.
His travel team headed south to Port Charlotte, Fla., where during a week-long tournament Beckham went 18-for-21 with four home runs, capping his summer with a .409 average in 132 at-bats, including nine homers, 15 doubles, eight triples and 32 stolen bases.
In the span of less than four months, Beckham had played in dozens of events, from Pensacola, Fla., to Long Beach, and it was apparent to everyone that he had the talent to be a first-round draft choice and potentially a cornerstone of a big league organization.
When it came time to commit to college, he chose Southern California. But with comparisons to Barry Larkin, Beckham’s more likely next SoCal destination is Chavez Ravine rather than Dedeaux Field.
“It’s been great to watch a baseball player evolve,” said Johns, who was recently hired by the Astros as their East Coast crosschecker. “I was able to see Tim early on, and if you had asked him what his dreams were back then, becoming a pro baseball player wasn’t a focal point.
“Griffin, Ga., is a small town where everyone knows everyone and it’s easy to get caught up in the wrong things sometimes. He’s done a good job of keeping his head on the prize and focused on his future. For him to come this route means a great deal.”