Bash It Like Beckham

Georgia shortstop has Bulldogs on top of SEC race

Gordon Beckham will tell you the only thing flashy about him is his shoes, a pair of black Nike high-tops with a red swoosh.

"I only wear them at home, because I don't want to get any abuse on the road," said Beckham, a junior shortstop at Georgia. "I figured I'd just spice it up a little bit. I don't consider myself too flashy.

"I think I can make the tough plays, I know I can make the tough plays. Now I'm starting to make the routine plays most of the time, as opposed to some of the time. I think I play defense pretty even-keeled."

He's been even more reliable with the bat in the first half of 2008, hitting .432/.530/.871 with 16 homers (most in the nation), 39 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. He has twice as many home runs as anyone else on his team, and he's drawn 24 walks while striking out just 12 times in 139 at-bats. Beckham being on base so often helps Georgia cleanup hitter Rich Poythress see more fastballs, and he has responded by hitting .385 with eight homers of his own. Beckham means an awful lot to a Georgia team that has jumped out to a 12-3 record in the Southeastern Conference, three games better than anyone else in the league.

"The first month, it was a one-man show," Bulldogs coach David Perno said. "Other guys were contributing, but Gordon was just so hot that you didn't really know about the other guys.

"He got off to such a great start, and the last couple weeks guys weren't giving in to him, they're walking him. He was just putting a little too much pressure on himself. And he'll learn to handle that. It was a little new to him (but) we kind of knew it was coming; it was a matter of time. He's earned this respect, they're going to intentionally walk him now."

After a torrid first month, Beckham began to cool down as he got less to hit, but he has always hit well against Georgia Tech, and he got himself going again with a pair of hits against the Yellow Jackets last week. Then, in Georgia's weekend sweep of Kentucky, Beckham drew six walks and made the most of the strikes he saw, going 4-for-8 with two doubles, a homer, five runs and three RBIs.

"A couple weeks ago I started getting intentionally walked, and I think that kind of messed with my mind a little bit," Beckham said. "When that happened, I started to do too much when I actually got to hit. I'm seeing 2-0 offspeed and 3-0 offspeed, but that's just something you've got to deal with. It's not a bad thing when they're doing that."

Beckham realizes that he has the most success when he does not try to do too much. Ironically, that lesson was hammered home by an oblique strain he suffered just before the season began in February.

"(Florida's Matt) LaPorta had it two years ago and he struggled, and it happened to me a week and a half before the season started, and I was pretty nervous I wouldn't be able to play," Beckham said. "I came into the season not wanting to do too much because I didn't want to hurt my oblique again. By doing that, I shortened my swing a little, and that helped me. It's a weird thing, but getting hurt actually helped me."

Beckham had plenty of success in his college career before his big spring, belting 25 home runs over his first two seasons and leading the Cape Cod League with nine homers last summer. But this year's been a little different, and not just in the stat columns.

"He's changed a lot from a maturity standpoint," Perno said. "I've seen his transformation from a maturity standpoint right after (last) season: on the field, off the field, just handling the situations. He's not beating himself up if things don't go right. He's just taking it in stride. He wants to be fun to watch play. There were too many times last year where he would bring it back onto the field or take his defense with him to the plate. I told him, 'Hey, just be fun to watch.' I'll tell you, he's sure been fun to watch this year from my vantage point."

Fun to watch, sure. Just don't call him flashy.

"I'm just a pretty plain and simple guy," Beckham said. "Except for those shoes. They're pretty snazzy."