"It's not about perfection — nobody is perfect — it's about striving for it and working hard every day."
Standing with arms crossed in the dugout looking out on to the field, Durham infielder Tim Beckham says these words like he's just finished contemplating something much more deep than pregame batting practice. Of course, in context he is speaking about his game and how when you're a minor leaguer, "everything could use improvement — that's why we're here."
But Beckham knows more about imperfection than just swinging and missing at a curve or bobbling a hot grounder. The 22-year old was suspended for 50 games on May 1st of this year for a second violation of Minor League Baseball's drug program.
High expectations, including the designation of being the first-overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft accompanied by the largest signing bonus ever awarded to a player drafted by the Rays ($6.15 million), compounded the disappointment felt by those who had high hopes for the Georgia native. However, Beckham's prodigal return to the Bulls in this season's second half shows that he is truly striving and working.
He has reached base in every game since his return on June 23rd, and maintained an average of .343 with a home run and five RBI during the month of June. Beckham also continues to creep up the team and league batting leader boards despite missing those 50 games.
"Recently he's been playing pretty good, he's made some changes to his setup and approach and it seems to be working really well for him right now," said Durham hitting coach Dave Myers on Beckham's retooled, more compact swing. "It gives him a chance to be a little bit shorter to the ball and use his bat speed more to his advantage. Seeing the ball is half the battle, especially when you haven't played in a while."
While the on-base streak and quick readjustment to the game is notable, Beckham still isn't exactly living up to the flashy draft contract and top 10 prospect rating after last season. Fortunately, he isn't frantically trying to be a hero in every at-bat to make up the ground or letting accolades affect his mental preparedness. Instead he makes it simple, noting that it's only a game and "that pressure has never been an issue."
"The hits will come — you can't really set your mind on it. I'm just seeing the ball well right now and my timing has come right back to me," said Beckham. "You just have to put together good at-bats and try to hit the ball hard every time you're at the plate, and that's been coming to me — it's looking good. We're rolling as a team, a great team, and I think we can keep this roll going."
The Rays organization can only hope this is true and that he can return to his career-best 2011 campaign with the Montgomery Biscuits, in which he hit .275 with seven homers and 57 RBI before getting called up to Durham.
In terms of fielding he has committed eight errors this season at his primary position of shortstop, accompanied by a .917 fielding percentage. However, Beckham has seen time at second base this season making his first-ever start at that position on June 24th, the day after coming back from suspension. He has committed no errors after manning that position for four games with 14 defensive chances.
The addition of Beckham to a Bulls team that has possessed its own share of blemishes this season draws some parallels, and as this season finishes the infielder's maxim will be put to the test. It's not about whether or not it's a flawless ride, it's about relentlessly working towards it and improving with every trip to the plate.
Ben Christoph is the Durham beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @btchristoph
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