COLUMN: Tim Tebow’s switch to baseball is typical of his career
It’s finally baseball season again, and that marks the return of many great spectacles: Clayton Kershaw’s superhuman pitching, Mike Trout’s one-man show in Anaheim, Jose Altuve’s pint-sized dominance and, most importantly, around-the-clock sports — starting with those 10 a.m. matinees scheduled from Monday through Sunday.
It’s also a season of new hopes: championship aspirations, blue-chip prospects, free agent stars and… Tim Tebow.
Oh, right. The former Heisman-winning quarterback is now a 29-year-old farmhand in the New York Mets organization. He arrived in Port St. Lucie, Fla. on Monday for the start of spring training, and he brought the usual media circus with him, despite the fact that he didn’t even receive a non-roster invite to the Mets’ major league camp. Though he will likely appear in very few games, Tebow may end up being the most closely monitored New York prospect this month.
It’s bizarre. On one hand, Tebow is, by definition, a prospect in just his first full season of professional baseball. But he’s also less than six months from his 30th birthday, and his top claims to fame are his religious outspokenness and his abomination of a throwing motion — which Tebow somehow parlayed into two National Championships at Florida and a single, divine playoff victory with the Denver Broncos. To almost any sports fan, Tebow’s presence on a baseball diamond makes even less sense than his exploits on the gridiron.
But that’s also why I’m excited to see what the man can do in his rookie campaign. Scores of sports pundits loved to shout that Tebow had no business quarterbacking at the NFL level. Yet he turned around a floundering Broncos team in just his second pro campaign, guiding them to the playoffs after taking over as the starter five games into the season — all while chucking the pigskin like an Olympic javelin toss.
So why can’t Tebow defy the odds in baseball as well? Tebow’s entire athletic career to date has defied convention: He was homeschooled while quarterbacking in Ponte Vedra, Fla., he had an NCAA rule named after him at Florida (where he occasionally roomed with double-murderer Aaron Hernandez on road trips) and he went from quarterback to punt protector and then back to quarterback in the NFL. And now he’s a baseball player, naturally following a brief stint as a TV analyst.
I’m not saying he’ll look pretty swinging the bat or shagging balls in the outfield — and evidence already suggests he won’t (he face-planted into the left-field wall in the Arizona Fall League while running after a fly ball). Nevertheless, he flashes potential. Tebow reportedly grooved a 450-foot home run while he was in high school. He had a .286 average last year in instructional league play, and though he hit .194 over 19 games in the AFL (where major league clubs send their top prospects during the winter), that was after working his way out of a 0-for-13 start.
Hovering around the Mendoza Line in the minor leagues would not be a cause for hype for almost every single baseball player on the planet, but that isn’t the case for Tebow. Time and time again, he’s shown that all he needs are those brief flashes to set the sporting world on fire. He knuckled throws all over the field in January 2012 before unleashing an inexplicably perfect, 80-yard dart to Demaryius Thomas in overtime to beat Pittsburgh.
That win came to be known as the “3:16 Game,” in reference to Tebow’s famous “John 3:16” eye black during the 2009 National Championship game (which references a famous Bible verse). Tebow finished the game with a career-high 316 passing yards and 31.6 yards per completion. The Nielsen ratings peaked at 31.6, the Steelers possessed the ball for 31 minutes and six seconds and Ben Roethlisberger threw his only interception of the game on 3rd and 16.
In the aftermath, 43 percent of people responding to a survey believed that Tebow was winning with the help of divine intervention.
NFL teams never got over Tebow’s mechanics, so he never got a chance to become the league’s resident miracle worker. Baseball is different, though — somewhere his bizarre but gifted physical tools can thrive, largely as they instinctively exist. Unique windups and strange swings are scattered all around the major leagues, and they are largely tolerated, as long as you are productive in some fashion and stay healthy.
Of course, this isn’t to say Tebow doesn’t need to polish his skills; judging by his 20 strikeouts in 71 fall league at-bats, he needs to do so badly. But his raw power is enough to translate to some chance of major-league value.
You may doubt Tebow’s chances: Many frequently do, and I might be on that boat, too. He played in a well-oiled system and under an excellent coach in Urban Meyer as a Gator, and he threw the ball into the turf or into the seats more often that he hit a receiver’s hands in Denver.
But to be honest, doesn’t that make his significant resume all the more miraculous? He left Gainesville as one of the most decorated college football players ever, with five NCAA, 14 SEC and 28 Florida records. He actually also owns six Broncos franchise records, though that includes number of times sacked in one game.
I don’t know if Tim Tebow will succeed in Major League Baseball. He likely won’t even make it there. But at every level he has competed athletically, he has consistently pulled off the unbelievable. Why would you bet against him this time?
More importantly, why would you want to?
Ollie Jung is a junior studying print and digital journalism. He is also a sports editor for the Daily Trojan. His column, “Jung Money,” runs on Thursdays.