Gordon Beckham has had a year for the ages.
The former Georgia Bulldog shortstop set a single-season record with 28 home runs (which also tied him for the NCAA Division I national lead), finished among the three finalists for the 2008 Golden Spikes Award and led his team to the 2008 College World Series championship series, where the Dawgs fell just one game shy of a national championship.
His last college at-bat was a home run.
Oh, yeah: Beckham was also drafted No. 8 overall by the Chicago White Sox in the Major League Baseball's annual First Year Player Draft in June. Once signed, he batted .310-3-8 in 14 games with Class A Kannapolis, then followed that up with a .394-3-13 showing over 18 games in the Arizona Fall League.
And he also, amazingly, found time to sign his Donruss Elite Extra Edition autographs. It took about three seconds for the product development team to decide Beckham was the perfect fit to appear on packaging for 2008 EEE. And so he does, appearing on boxes, wrappers and sales information sheets wearing his red Georgia jersey with Bulldogs' familiar white helmet.
"My parents will probably frame one of the wrappers," Beckham says with a chuckle. "They're into it."
Beckham recently spoke with Donruss Brand Manager Mike Payne about the season, signing autographs and how his college coach was reluctant to give up the game-used Beckham jersey that ultimately landed in the Elite Extra Edition product.
Question: Were you prepared for your first professional season and were you ready for everything that comes with being a professional?
Gordon Beckham: "I think so; the game doesn't change, and that's what you do day in and day out. I guess the biggest difference from college is that you play every day. You're doing something every day to get better. In college, you might get a day or two off. That's the one thing that's changed. But the game hasn't changed - you still hit, you still field, you still throw. It's the same game."
Q: Did you accomplish everything you wanted to in a short season, including your 18 games in the Arizona Fall League?
GB: "Yeah, absolutely. I got my feet wet and I saw what I need to be doing and how I'm supposed to act. And I think that's important. You need to learn how to handle stuff, and that's what I did. I was able to learn from a lot of guys who have been doing it for while, and [the season] was a good time. I definitely got out of it what I wanted to get out of it."
Q: Was the switch to a wood bat - which you did use in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2007 - difficult since you had been using metal all the way through the College World Series?
GB: It wasn't that big of a deal to me, personally. You're still swinging a bat, and that doesn't change. The difference is how far the ball goes. But really, a lot of players can hit with wood. It's just a matter of swinging a wood bat and getting the feel of it."
Q: With a metal bat, you set a University of Georgia school record for most career home runs with 53. But what some people don't realize is that your home park is a whopping 350 down the left-field line - deeper than a lot of major league fields. That had to have hurt your home run tally at some point, didn't it?
GB: "Well, I definitely had some balls caught at the track. But overall, the ball travels pretty well at Georgia so I wasn't too disappointed. I might have missed a couple of home runs, but I think the bat probably had as much to do with that as the actual field. When the wind blows, it blows out to center. When you hit the ball well, it will go. It's not really a dead park."
Q: Did you ever find yourself going to right field where the dimensions are a little more favorable?
GB: "I definitely learned in college - and even now - to go to the opposite field. That's a work in progress."
Q: Was there any significance to wearing jersey #6 at Georgia?
GB: "I've always kind of liked #6, and I'm not sure why other than I was always #6 in baseball while growing up. I just like it, and had the chance to keep it [in college]."
Q: What players or teams did you follow as a kid?
GB: "Actually, I didn't really follow baseball all that much. Growing up in Atlanta, I did watch the Braves and watched the ‘90s Braves teams a little bit. But I didn't really keep up with any one player. I played football in high school and that was a little bit of a bigger deal to me until I got to college and focused on baseball."
Q: We know you played quarterback in high school, and your father was a college quarterback (South Carolina). Did it ever look like you might go to college on a football scholarship?
GB: "I could have played and contributed at some smaller colleges - Air Force wanted me to play quarterback and Ohio University wanted me to play free safety. I could have gone and contributed there pretty quickly, I think. But if I had gone to a big SEC school it might have been two or three years before I played. Football was really my thing until I went to college. I enjoyed it, and it was just one of those things that came more naturally to me than baseball."
Q: Take us back to draft day last June. Did you have any idea where you would go in the draft?
GB: "I kind of thought I was going to go anywhere from five to 12, but I just wasn't sure. I thought there was a chance that I would be taken somewhere in there. The Giants took Buster [Posey], a friend of mine, at five so I figured it would be the Reds at seven, the White Sox or possibly the A's at 12. It was a pretty special day, obviously, and I got to experience it with my family."
Q: There has been some talk that you could ultimately wind up playing third base, or even second base, in the majors. Yet the White Sox say you could very well stay at shortstop, too. Do you feel you could step up and play shortstop at the major league level?
GB: "Yeah, I do. I've been playing there all my life and it feels the most natural to me there. I think I could step in and be a productive shortstop in the big leagues. But, that's ultimately not my call. If they want me to play second, if they want me to play third or if they want me to play shortstop. . .I'm going to do what they want me to do."
Q: Have you had a chance to talk with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a pretty fair shortstop in his day?
GB: "I haven't yet, but I'm hoping to have that opportunity pretty soon. I look forward to that."
Q: A lot has happened in the last year, but could you have ever believed you would be featured on wrappers and packaging for a trading card product?
GB: "Absolutely not! A year ago I was just hoping to get drafted at some point in the first round. If it was the late first round, that would have been great. But there is no way I ever thought I would be on a trading card wrapper - that's just something I never thought would happen to me. But wow. . .trading cards are something that, no matter what sport you play, have some meaning and are something to hold on to.. I had my share when I was young."
Q: So were you a collector growing up?
GB: "Not really a collector like some are today, but I did have some cards of my own."
Q: Do you remember the first autograph you ever signed?
GB: "Hmmm. . .Actually, I think it might have been after a football game in high school."
Q: When did signing autographs become somewhat routine? In college?
GB: "It was definitely in college. I think it was after my first year that I began to realize that it was becoming kind of routine. It's kind of strange. . .when you're growing up, when you're like 15 years old, you wonder why guys get tired of signing autographs. I always grew up thinking, ‘I'd sign my name all day for whoever wanted it.' And then you get to the point where you sign 200-300 in a row for people, and you get a little tired. But that's just the way it goes. But I certainly still enjoy signing for people, and enjoyed signing for Donruss. It's still fun."
Q: Have you reached the point where the appreciation for reaching the College World Series final is at least as strong or stronger than the disappointment of not winning the national title?
GB: "Yeah, I have. You know, that was just an unbelievable couple of weeks in Omaha, and we came up one game short. But baseball is a very difficult game, and very unpredictable, and not always the best team wins. That's the difference between baseball and a lot of other sports. It's usually the best team in other sports that wins. That makes baseball a little more fun than some of the other sports."
"We were there, we gave it everything we had but we just came up short. They [Fresno State] were a hot team, and it's all about who's got the momentum. That's a fact. But it was a lot of fun, I enjoyed my experience. . .obviously I wish we could have won, but we were there and gave it our best shot and that's all any of us could have asked for.
Q: During the CWS, ESPN's Peter Gammons offered you some high praise by saying on-air that you were, first and foremost, "a baseball player." What does that mean to you?
GB: That means a lot to me. Peter Gammons is somebody that a lot of people in the community respects. That's a nice compliment, but coming from him it's even more so."
Q: How do you approach the game day in and day out?
GB: "I want to be fun to watch, and have people wonder ‘Who is this guy?' That's my goal every time I step onto the field. Even if I have a bad game, I just want to be energetic and show people that the baseball field is exactly where I want to be."
Q: What current major league player do you think you best compare to?
GB: "I don't really know. . .some people have said [Derek] Jeter, some have said Michael Young. But I don't really know; those are just two names I've heard. All players are inherently different, and I don't know if I compare in any way - or ever will compare - to those guys. They're great players. It would be nice to lead the White Sox the way Jeter leads the Yankees, though.
Q: One of your game-worn Georgia jerseys was used in Elite Extra Edition, making for some outstanding memorabilia cards. Did you have any trouble getting that jersey from the coaching staff?
GB: "A little bit. . .we ended up getting all the jerseys, but they were a little reluctant to give them away. But I think my mom was even more reluctant for me to give that one up. My mom wanted all the jerseys. Hopefully, it means something to some other people now."