On Labor Day, exactly five weeks after the Baltimore Orioles acquired Tim Beckham from the Tampa Bay Rays at the non-waiver trade deadline, the team handed out T-shirts bearing the shortstop's name.
During those five weeks, Beckham not only set a record for earliest T-shirt honoree in Orioles history, but he also had 50 hits in August, the second-most in club history, and made himself the odds-on favorite to be the team's shortstop in 2018 and perhaps beyond.
With longtime shortstop J.J. Hardy unlikely to return next year, the Orioles were searching for a replacement at the trade deadline.
"We told clubs that we were looking for a shortstop, and anything we were going to do around the trade deadline was going to focus around that," Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said.
Tampa Bay had recently traded for shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from the Miami Marlins, and Beckham, who had been the Rays' starting shortstop, moved to second base.
Beckham was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft by the Rays, and it wasn't until this season that he was a major league regular.
"We liked a lot of things about Beckham," Duquette said. "We liked his bat, his power, his speed, his arm. His overall tools are really great. He's very talented. He's a really productive hitter outside [Tropicana Field]."
Duquette noted Beckham's numbers had been adversely impacted by playing half his games at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field, where he hit .222.
Tropicana Field has been ranked statistically as one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the majors and has been especially tough on right-handed hitters such as Beckham
As soon as Beckham came to Baltimore, the 27-year-old came to life. He recorded a hit during his first 12 games with the Orioles and had multi-hit games in nine of them.
"Just having him on the team is great," third baseman Manny Machado said. "He brings us a lot of energy. The last couple of weeks he's been here, he's taken us to another level."
Ten games into Beckham's Orioles tenure, manager Buck Showalter elevated him into the leadoff spot. Beckham doesn't walk often, but if he hits well enough, that may not matter.
"It's cool. I like it. I like batting leadoff," Beckham said. "You can set the tone with the first at-bat of the game. That's something I like to do. If I see a pitch up I can drive, I take an aggressive hack at it. We're an aggressive lineup, and we don't want to let a fastball pass, so we're going to be swinging out of the chute."
There have been questions about Beckham's defense. He committed four errors in 25 games at shortstop with the Rays in 2016 and has already committed eight errors in his first 34 games with Baltimore.
Beckham said he isn't satisfied being just a skilled hitter. He knows the Orioles require superior defense and have a tradition of excellence at shortstop. In addition to Hardy, Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Bordick and Miguel Tejada have all been mainstays.
"I want to keep growing as a defender and keep getting better as a defender," Beckham said. "I want to be an elite defender. I want to be a Gold Glover. I'm sure that everybody that plays the game and plays the middle infield wants to be a Gold Glover as well. Just to be alongside those guys is a blessing, and I'm looking forward to winning more ballgames with those guys."
To that end, Beckham and third base coach Bobby Dickerson have discussed working together during the offseason.
"He and I have talked about getting together in the winter and spending some time together, doing some stuff," Dickerson said. "He's real receptive. This is such a talent that if he gets his clock right, a couple of little changes here and there, [he's a] good-looking player."
Beckham said he would be eager to work with Dickerson to improve his defense.
"I've never had an infield coach come over and want to work with me in the offseason and want to see a guy like myself get better and grow with him as well, as [second baseman Jonathan Schoop] and Manny did, coming up through the minors," Beckham said. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to getting with him in the offseason, sharpening my game."
Throughout Machado and Schoop's time with the Orioles they've had Hardy at shortstop, but playing with someone new hasn't been difficult.
"No big adjustment. The same way when I came up, me and J.J. have to work together," Schoop said. "You've just get to know each other more. See how he flips the ball to me, what he likes to do.
"... So far it's working pretty good. We've got to know each other more, so we get better. Every day we try and get better. I told him the things I like, and he told me the things he likes. I like him to feed me on the bag, so I stay on the bag. Throw it, I'm going to catch it. Don't aim it, throw where I like it. It's my job to catch the ball."
Said Dickerson: "I think it's just understanding the pride we take in our defense, and that we've taken in the defense here for a long time. Definitely gives a little edge to it, call it pressure maybe, whatever. It definitely draws attention to it. It's heightened, but those guys actually help with everything, in reality. They're welcoming him in and picking with him and doing their little antics with him included now. He's fitting right in with them."
With Beckham, Machado and Schoop at the top of the lineup and at the key positions in the infield, perhaps Beckham felt the need to elevate his game.
"It's been great, man," Beckham said. "It's been great just to be part of the whole club and be in between Machado and Schoopy, two All-Stars, gives you the momentum to work harder.
"It's not like we're not working hard every day, but when you see guys like that making plays every day, it gives you that extra boost, the extra want, the want to make a play and want to make a play to save the game and want to get on base so those guys can knock me in. It's been fun to be a part of, man."
Showalter has been impressed with Beckham's work ethic, saying the shortstop isn't easily satisfied, a trait Showalter called "attractive." He is ready to see what more Beckham can offer.
"Obviously, he's been great in a short sampling," Showalter said. "He's fit in pretty seamlessly. You can tell he wants to take advantage of this fresh start with some people that he knows are in need of what he brings."
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 237: September 2017