Tim Tebow reports to New York Mets camp today and, poetically, the first thing he’ll do is have a press conference. He’ll then take batting practice and shag fly balls on a back field with other members of the organization’s minor-league system. It will be a nothing event forced into a made-for-television event hole.
This undue attention will be the Mets’ sweet reward for showering unearned money at Tebow’s feet. Giving the former NFL quarterback a contract to play a sport he hadn’t participated in competitively in the last decade was an outwardly craven move. No one truly believes Tebow will ever be a productive member of a Major League roster. There is no evidence to suggest he can be a productive member of an A-ball roster.
And the Mets know this. Manager Terry Collins was asked about Tebow’s arrival and, try as he might, could not bring himself to offer any optimism.
“I got enough on my plate at the moment with what I got here,” said Collins with a smile, after taking a long pause. “When they tell me that Tim’s had some at-bats, and he’s comfortable at the plate and comfortable with what he’s doing, I’ll get him over (to the major league side of camp).”
Nothing Tebow does in the next few days will vault him into a situation where he’s earning a chance to play with the Major League unit on merit. A few batting practice home runs do little to paper over the only recent empirical evidence of his prowess.
The evidence speaks for itself. Tebow hit .194 in the Arizona Fall League, and racked up 20 strikeouts in his 70 plate appearances. He parlayed his 6-foot-4, 255 pound frame into three doubles and zero home runs.
A dearth of supporting data points proving Tebow has a bright baseball future is why the ubiquitous puff pieces are reliant on anecdotes about him once hitting a curveball back in high school. It’s why those who believe in Tebow do so with the belief some otherworldly factor will propel the magnetic superstar into greatness.
“I never ever would underestimate his talent and his desire, and don’t forget, he has that extra person on his shoulder to help him along,” said Ted Barbato, the Nease athletic director when Tebow led Nease to a state football title as a senior.
The Mets’ Tebow experiment is an embarrassing publicity play. The longer it goes on, the more embarrassing it will become. Herein lies the challenge for the organization.
Tebow’s great appeal is his mystery. The grand experiment of giving him a shot to play baseball only works without experimentation. Eventually, as the villagers realized the emperor had no clothes, they’ll also realize The Quarterback Makes No Contact.
Hopes and dreams are more valued before the viability of each are weighed. The Mets find themselves in a precarious position. They obviously want to milk the Tebow charade for all he’s worth while not totally exposing his copious flaws and ruining any future appearances of their intrigue.
How to do that without exposing the naked sham for what it is will be difficult. It’s probably in the Mets’ best interest to keep him off the main stage more than they want to. Then, pray like hell Tebow runs into one during his dozen or so televised spring training at-bats. It will be a delicate dance to reap the rewards while maintaining mystery.
Clearly, the Tebow experiment is important to the Mets. But apparently, and hearteningly, not to the all-business baseball people. Here’s Collins again:
“This game is about our fans. It will always be about the fans. And this guy is a special person – tremendous athlete, he’s got a huge name in the sports world and he’s in our organization trying to be a baseball player,” said Collins. “I’m certainly not going to take anything away from that. I salute him for what he’s trying to do. It’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be very difficult. But he’s a tremendous competitor. I know he’s a winner. That’s gonna mean a lot in that big clubhouse full of young kids over there.
“When they tell me, ‘Hey, look, he’s had enough at-bats that he’s ready…’ I’ll bring him over,” added Collins. “I think our fans should get a chance to see him. I wish him all the best, but right now we’ve got enough going on this side of the field.”
The circus has rolled into town. Get your popcorn ready. There’s so much that could wrong and so little that could go right.
This is what the Mets wanted, and they’re getting it. Hope the buzz is worth it.