ATHENS — Joshua Fields said no to his dream a year ago. He figured the decision came from the Lord.
After a subpar year as the closer for the University of Georgia baseball team in 2007, Fields was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft.
But Fields rejected the Braves and elected to come back for his senior season. The decision paid off.
He and teammate Gordon Beckham were both selected in the first round. Fields was selected 20th by Seattle after shortstop Beckham was picked eighth by the Chicago White Sox.
“All I have really wanted to do is play major league baseball,” Fields said. “I was set on going out last year. But as I stayed here over the summer, God put in me a change of heart. I knew something like that could not come from me.”
Fields was delighted with the turn of events. After blowing six out of 13 save opportunities as a junior, he came back as a senior to save 16 games and earn the National Stopper of the Year Award from the College Baseball Writers Association. He did not allow an inherited runner to score this year, striking out 56 batters in 31 innings. He was the Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year.
“Last year I thought about the draft a lot more,” Fields said. “This year I put it behind me and just had fun this year. I tried to be myself. That helped as far as taking the pressure off.”
Fields is even more delighted that Georgia is on the verge of returning to the College World Series. His 15 saves in 2006, when he earned All-America honors, helped the Bulldogs advance to Omaha. Georgia is hosting North Carolina State in an NCAA Super Regional starting today. The winner goes to Omaha.
Beckham came into the season with a .291 career average and 25 home runs. He enters the Super Regional hitting .397. He has set school records this year with 24 homers, 85 runs and 189 total bases.
Beckham said he expects to play shortstop in the White Sox system.
“The White Sox are a good fit for me,” he said. “I hear they need help up the middle, and that is where I want to play, either short or second.”
The dual selection is not the first time two Bulldogs have been chosen in baseball’s first round. In 1987, the Braves picked pitcher Derek Lilliquist sixth overall, and the St. Louis Cardinals picked reliever Chris Carpenter 14th overall. Both players made it to the majors.
“I think we both have what it takes to be there,” Fields said of their big-league aspirations. “Just looking at how many first round picks make it, you can see how hard it is. I really do think we have what it takes to get there and get there quick. Maybe that is wishful thinking.”
Fields said he hoped he would be used as a closer, but he was certain he would pitch out of the bullpen.
He had one word of advice for Beckham.
“Don’t take it personally,” he said. “They a have a job to do. Roll with the punches, keep your cool and trust that things will work out.”