Against long odds, Gordon Beckham makes Tigers' Opening Day roster
Lakeland, Fla. — The first call went to his wife. The next call went to his parents. They deserved to hear the news first. They’ve been on this odyssey with him through all the high times and heartbreak.
But it was the call to his father-in-law that may have been the most emotional.
“He was thrilled for me,” Gordon Beckham said Saturday morning after he learned the Tigers had selected his contract for the 2019 season. “He’s over the moon.”
Beckham’s father-in-law is Tigers roving hitting instructor Scott Fletcher. The two spent countless hours in batting cages the last two years revamping, revising and refining Beckham hitting mechanics.
“He deserves a lot of credit,” Beckham said. “I don’t get back without him.”
Beckham, 32, has made the Tigers 25-man roster as a utility infielder after spending most of the last two years with the Mariners Triple-A team in Tacoma.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “To kind of work back and have to grind it out a little bit in Triple-A the last two years. It makes it worth it. I am glad I did it.”
Beckham was drafted by the White Sox in 2008 and was in the big leagues within a year. He played more games in the minor leagues in his 30s than he did in his 20s.
“I appreciate this more than my first call-up,” he said. “It’s just different. My first call-up, I didn’t even know what was going on. You get in the big leagues, you get there quick and you don’t even realize what you are doing.
“Now it’s come full circle. But it’s more just having to work to get back here. It wasn’t fun going through it, but I’m glad I stuck it out.”
Beckham won the roster spot over Ronny Rodriguez, who was optioned to Triple-A Toledo.
“I’m good,” Rodriguez said as he was clearing out his locker Saturday. “I would say, I’m a professional. I control what I can control. I don’t make the decisions. I am just glad for the opportunity to be here with this club.
“I still got a uniform. That’s what’s important to me.”
Both Beckham and Rodriguez had productive springs. Manager Ron Gardenhire made it clear early in spring he was looking for more middle infield depth. The Tigers hope to use Niko Goodrum almost like an everyday player, moving around the diamond — first base, designated hitter, third base and the outfield.
The second utility player, then, had to be able to play second and shortstop to spell starters Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer.
“You want people in those roles that you don’t have to worry about,” Gardenhire told MLB.com on Friday. “They know how to play. I don’t have to go looking for them saying you have to be ready here. (Beckham) is every bit of that.
“And Ronny Rodriguez, he’s been there, too.”
Beckham started three straight games at shortstop this week — which ended up being his final audition.
“I know they probably see that, if these guys get hurt (Mercer or Harrison), I can step in and do it,” Beckham said. “I think that’s important. If they need to give those guys a day, I can roll in there and give them a day and be a winning player and not miss a beat.”
He’s also showed the fruits of his labor with Fletcher. He hit .302 with an .858 OPS in Tacoma last year, and he’s hitting .287 this spring.
“I had a good feeling (about making the roster),” Beckham said. “I felt like I’ve done some good things defensively to show I can play all over the field and I was hitting to the point where it showed I’ve worked on my game and I am better.
“I felt good about what I was doing and I wanted to feel good about what I was doing, no matter what. Ultimately it was about me showing up and knowing I did all that I could do, I’m just really glad it was enough."
Fulmer surgery set
Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer is scheduled to have ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery (Tommy John) on Wednesday.
The surgery will be performed by Dr. Keith Meister at the TMI Sports Medicine Institute in Dallas.
The Tigers placed Fulmer on the 60-day injured list Saturday. The recovery process is expected to take 14 to 16 months.
Catcher Bobby Wilson, whose opt-out date was Saturday, was released Saturday, leaving three catchers in camp — starter Grayson Greiner, John Hicks and veteran Cameron Rupp, who came over from the Giants as a non-roster invitee two weeks ago.
If the Tigers take 13 pitchers north to start the season, which has been the plan with the club playing eight straight games to start the season, then most likely Rupp would start the season at Toledo.