PORT ST. LUCIE — Baseball faces declining attendance and TV ratings, unsigned superstars, rising tension between owners and players and major concerns about the on-field evolution of its product.
On the other hand, it employs Tim Tebow.
We all should be lucky enough to be spoken of by anyone, just once, as lovingly as the Mets minor-leaguer and worldwide celebrity Tebow speaks of baseball. Only injury issues can deter him from appearing at Citi Field by season’s end, and baseball lacks the moral and fiscal high ground to scoff at this freak show.
Could the Mets actually be ahead of the curve on this one?
“I’m all in on baseball,” baseball’s most famous active player said Saturday at First Data Field, after participating in his first (voluntary) team-wide workout. “No way could I stop and not give this the chance after everything I’ve worked for. While I’m grateful for the opportunity, this is what I’m in now. And I’m all in.”
The opportunity was multiple calls from legendary football coach Steve Spurrier — he “keeps calling,” according to Tebow — to recruit the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for the Orlando Apollos of the upstart Alliance of American Football. Tebow hasn’t played in a regular-season NFL game since his ill-fated turn with the 2012 Jets, so it’s not surprising that he would pass and remain focused on becoming the very first Earthling to play for both the Jets and the Mets.
Look, the guy deserves major props for sticking it out as he has, riding the buses and doing the work in his climb from the Arizona Fall League in 2016 to the South Atlantic League and the Florida State League in 2017 to the Eastern League last year. He wound up slashing .273/.336/.399 for Double-A Binghamton, improving each month, before his 2018 season ended prematurely last July, depriving him of a likely September call-up, with a broken hamate bone in his right hand.
Even as he traveled over the offseason in his job as an ESPN college football analyst, he brought former Oriole Jay Gibbons everywhere with him as his hitting coach. As he crushed seven balls over the fence in Saturday’s batting practice, he no longer carried the appearance of a football H-back on a reality show about job swaps.
“I definitely see a baseball player out of Tim Tebow,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said Saturday, “not because he’s in a uniform. Just because he wants it so bad.”
Yeah, even the Mets can sell this guy only so much. For all the ground he has covered after not playing baseball between high school and age 29, we’re still talking about a 31-year-old corner outfielder whose defense is a liability and who struck out 103 times in 271 Double-A at-bats. That he played in last year’s Eastern League All-Star Game says more about others’ marketing savvy than his ceiling.
Tebow’s defense will be a priority this spring, his former agent and new Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said Saturday, and he’ll start the season at Triple-A Syracuse. If Van Wagenen’s rookie voyage goes as hoped and the team contends, why wouldn’t the Mets call up Tebow in September when rosters expand and deploy him as a high-energy, ticket-selling cheerleader while giving him some at-bats in blowouts?
After all, baseball just suffered a huge hit when the most recent Heisman Trophy winner, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, bolted the A’s for the NFL, less than a year after signing with Oakland upon getting drafted ninth overall.
“He loves two sports, and I can really relate to that,” Tebow said of Murray. “…When we talked about it — and we did talk about it — I just gave him the advice to follow your heart. Whatever you’re passionate about.”
While baseball isn’t Tebow’s sole passion, he sure talks about the game passionately, even as he suffered a Freudian slip Saturday and referred to an outfield rep as a “snap,” getting laughs from everyone including himself.
To twist some words from “The Dark Knight,” Tebow is not the hero baseball needs right now, but he’s the one it has. And it probably should be thankful for that.
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