- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

GRIFFIN, Ga. (AP) | While playing catch at the end of baseball practice, Tim Beckham tosses the ball around his back, flips it between his legs and shows off his jump shot.

While practicing with Griffin High School for the state championship series, Beckham wears a Minnesota Timberwolves cap.

Bend it like Beckham? At one time, Beckham’s goal was to jam it like Jordan.

“I dreamed of being picked in the NBA Draft,” Beckham said.

At age 11, Beckham cast aside his baseball glove and ignored the sport for three years while focusing on basketball. He played guard and small forward and was pretty good.

Then his older brother, Jeremy, advised Tim to come back to baseball, where he was more than just pretty good.

That advice could pay off big Thursday when the kid who once dreamed of the NBA Draft could be the No. 1 pick in baseball’s amateur draft.

Beckham, a 6-foot-2 shortstop with power, speed and strong defense, is projected by Baseball America to be the first pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in the draft. Beckham, who has signed with Southern Cal, is almost certain to be a top-five selection.

“Obviously I’m excited,” Beckham said. “I’m 18, and I have the chance to possibly be the No. 1 pick in the baseball draft. I don’t let it get to me, really. I’m still playing high school ball, and I’m really concentrating on that.”

Jeremy Beckham, who just completed his senior season as a second baseman at Georgia Southern, also hopes to be picked, though he may have to wait for Friday’s second day of the draft.

“He was a big inspiration in my life,” Tim said of Jeremy. “He got me back in the game when I stopped playing from 11 to 14. He brought me back to the game, and everything he did I did in practice.”

At Griffin High School, the home of former track and NFL star Willie Gault, many of the best athletes focus on football and basketball. Tim Beckham loved football and basketball, but even at 11 he was showing he could be a special talent in baseball.

“I just didn’t want him to get caught up in basketball and football because everyone around here plays basketball and football,” Jeremy said. “His tools in baseball were much sharper than the kids his age.

“He excelled in basketball as well, but in baseball he was so much better, and you could see that. It was obvious. It was apparent. We did have to kind of pry him away from basketball, but ultimately it was his choice. We just tried to influence that decision.”

Tim made up for lost time quickly.

“With kids like that, you kind of see them and immediately you know,” Griffin coach Jamie Cassady said. “As an eighth grader, he probably could play varsity for us.

“The question with those kind of kids, what is going to be their commitment to the game? A lot of kids come through with potential and talent, but they’re not doing anything in offseason to better themselves. Tim worked at it.”

Cassady calls Jeremy the hardest worker he has coached, providing an excellent role model for Tim.

“A lot of people look at him and think it was easy,” Jeremy said of Tim. “He does have God-given ability, but there’s no question about his work ethic. He made up those years. He worked harder than anybody his age. That’s what is paying off. This just didn’t come out of nowhere. He’s truly been a hard worker.”

Tim Beckham said he never regretted his return to baseball.

“Once I started back playing, I realized my love for the game came back,” he said. “I loved baseball again, and I had an opportunity to be a good player.”

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