LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - With the clock on the large television monitor ticking down to zero and a cluster of fans chanting from the balcony, commissioner Bud Selig stepped to the podium and announced that the Tampa Bay Rays had selected high school shortstop Tim Beckham with the No. 1 pick in the baseball draft.

Oh, how times have changed.

The annual 50-round marathon that began yesterday is no longer strictly held by conference call. A portion of the first day was televised live for the second consecutive year from Disney World with about 400 boisterous fans and autograph seekers in house, along with some of baseball's biggest names, including Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Billy Williams and Dave Winfield.

"It's come a long way," said former major league pitcher Brian Anderson, recalling 15 years ago when he gathered with family and friends around a telephone in his Ohio apartment waiting for a call from the team drafting him.

"You didn't even know what time the draft started then. I found out the night before," the third overall pick in 1993 added. "This is awesome. This is great for the game."

Only one thing was missing - prospects.

One, Aaron Hicks, a high school outfielder and alumnus of baseball's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., attended with his family and went on stage to shake hands with Selig and pose for pictures after the Minnesota Twins made him the 14th pick.

Many in the crowd wore Rays T-shirts and cheered wildly when Selig announced the selection of Beckham, the talented high school shortstop from Griffin, Ga., that Tampa Bay picked over Florida State catcher Buster Posey.

Beckham was recognized as one of the best pure athletes in the draft and labeled a legitimate five-tool player. He established himself as the top prep prospect in the nation with solid performances at last summer's high school showcase events and hit .482 with six homers, 13 doubles, 41 RBI and 23 stolen bases as a senior.

With the second pick, the Pittsburgh Pirates chose sweet-swinging Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Florida high school first baseman Eric Hosmer went third to the Kansas City Royals, and the Baltimore Orioles took top college pitching prospect Brian Matusz out of San Diego with the fourth pick. *