Beckham battering foes

ATHENS – Gordon Beckham entered the 2008 season determined he wasn't going to try to carry Georgia's baseball team, and, for the first time in his career, he is doing just that.

The new mental approach has saved the Bulldogs' junior shortstop from what had become his notoriously slow starts and boosted him to one of the nation's hottest starts.

"Slow is an understatement," Georgia head coach David Perno said. "Horrible, horrible."

"He would have had two years prior similar to this if he would have gotten off to a good start. Once he gets going and the confidence is there, he's as good as anybody."

This season could hardly have started better for Beckham, who is leading the nation in home runs (15) and total bases (112), while batting .430, driving in 37 runs and scoring an SEC-best 49 runs.

"He's the best player (in the SEC)," Perno said. "That's not just coming from me. That's coming from the other coaches and that probably carries more weight than me."

Tennessee coach Todd Raleigh called Beckham the best player in America last month, and Arizona coach Andy Lopez said Beckham is the best collegiate hitter he has seen in the last 15 years.

Beckham is the chief reason Georgia has won seven straight SEC games heading into today's season finale against Kentucky. The No. 14 Bulldogs (22-12, 11-3 SEC) and the No. 17 Wildcats (26-7, 7-5) will meet at 2 p.m. today at Foley Field.

"To say that I'm not surprised (by the numbers) would be kind of cocky, but I think I've always had this ability to do what I've done," Beckham said. "I just haven't really put it together, mainly because of my approach and my mind-set."

Beckham pressed in the beginning of his first two seasons trying to get off to the kind of start he is on this year, he said.

"This year I told myself just to relax and enjoy it," he said.

His new attitude started this summer when he played in the prestigious Cape Cod League and led it in home runs and RBIs.

"That's a big deal," he said. "It gives you a lot of confidence because that's where a lot of people look at you and where you get your name, and I went up there and played well. All I could think about was if I could with wood (bats), I could hit with metal."

Beyond being the best player in the SEC this season, Beckham is the best shortstop in school history, Perno said, which is quite a statement considering former Bulldog Jeff Keppinger is a third baseman for the Cincinnati Reds this season.

"Keppinger had a dynamic six weeks (at Georgia), and Keppinger was a great player, but Gordon has a little more range, a little better arm," Perno said. "He's a rich man's version of Keppinger."

Beckham is eight home runs from tying Georgia's single-season record and 12 from breaking Josh Morris' career record of 51. Four of his five two-home run games have come this season.

His numbers have caught the attention of more than college baseball coaches. When Baseball America released its updated list of Major League Baseball draft prospects last week, Beckham was No. 12 on the list. As a junior, he is eligible to enter the draft this season.

"If you're playing for the draft, you're not going to be playing for the right reasons," Beckham said. "Yeah, it's in the back of everybody's mind when they're a junior, but I've been trying to just enjoy it. Those (scouts) up in the stands, I respect what they do, but I don't play for them.

"Obviously, you have to notice (the extra attention), but I try not to take it to heart because if you do that things can go south in a hurry."

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