New Braves infielder Gordon Beckham heard something Saturday at FanFest that he never heard during any such event in his nearly seven seasons with the White Sox.
He heard, “Go Dawgs!” More than once.
“It’s nice to be back home,” said Beckham, an Atlanta native and former University of Georgia standout who signed a free-agent contract with the Braves in December. “It’s definitely different, but I just feel very comfortable because obviously I live here and this is kind of my backyard.”
Thousands of Braves fans turned out for FanFest, and plenty made it a point to welcome home Beckham, who hopes to revive his stalled career with the team he watched regularly as a kid on TBS or sitting in the stands at Turner Field or old Fulton County Stadium.
“It’s definitely been a cool day to get back in there, and you have people say, ‘Go Dawgs’ and stuff,” he said. “It’s funny, because you just don’t think about it like that (being away in Chicago). But I grew up here in Georgia. It’s definitely cool to be in a Braves uniform.”
Beckham signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract after a career-worst season. He hit .209 with six homers, a .275 on-base percentage and a .332 slugging percentage in 237 plate appearances for the White Sox.
He continued to grade well defensively at second base and third base, working mostly at third base last season after playing 105 games at second base in 2014 for the White Sox and Angels. He provides the Braves with at least a platoon option at second base or depth at a few infield positions, but Beckham is aiming for a bigger role.
“To be playing third base every day,” he said. “I think that’s what they told me that I had the opportunity to do, so we’ll go into spring and see what happens. If that doesn’t work out, then I’ll probably just be going all over the place and playing all the infield positions, which I can do. But my goal is to be playing third base every day.”
The Westminster High School graduate never developed into the star he expected to become after being selected by the White Sox in the first round (eighth overall pick) of the 2008 draft. He’s a .242 career hitter with a .304 OBP, 69 home runs and a .676 OPS in seven seasons, including 14 homers with a career-best 63 RBIs as a 22-year-old rookie in 2009.
In 2012 he had career-bests in homers (16), games played (151) and plate appearances (582). Beckham hasn’t had as many as 10 homers , 500 PAs or 130 games played in any season since.
“It’s just nice because I feel like I’m in my backyard,” he said. “I did really well at Georgia and I’m really comfortable there. Having a new jersey (team) is huge for me; I’ve wanted to kind of get a new start somewhere. What better way to resurrect my career than in my hometown? I think it’d be really cool.”
He’s also looking forward to being a leader on a young team sprinkled with veterans including a couple of his former White Sox teammates, catchers A.J. Pierzynski and offseason signee Tyler Flowers.
“I know Kelly Johnson well, and I played with (Erick) Aybar in L.A. and he’s first class, and he’s a great player,” Beckham said. “And I obviously know A.J. and Tyler Flowers.”
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