You have to applaud the New York Mets: Inviting Tim Tebow to spring training was a genius move.
Sure, Tebow had little business competing against actual Major League Baseball players, even in an exhibition setting. But with rosters thin because of the ongoing World Baseball Classic and fan interest generally lukewarm toward the sport’s six-week preseason, throwing a Heisman Trophy-winner into the mix gave us one more thing to gawk at this spring.
The Tebow experiment felt like one of those whimsical hypothetical questions you throw out to friends over a few beers. Could you make contact against a major league pitcher? Put a ball in play? Get a hit? Play an inning at first base without committing an error?
In this case, the Mets wanted to know if a quarterback-turned-ESPN talking head who hadn’t played baseball since high school could get a hit or two during spring training. And also help them make money in the process.
Turns out the answer to both questions was “yes.”
Tebow had four singles in 20 at-bats. He didn’t commit any errors as an outfielder. He did take a few practice swings in the wrong on-deck circle; time really has flown by since those high school days, am I right?
On Monday, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson decided to keep his little experiment going, albeit against younger competition. The organization assigned the 29-year-old Tebow to the Low-A Columbia Fireflies, in a league where many college draft picks begin their minor league careers.
By the way, that’s Columbia, S.C. — forever a safe harbor for Florida football players and coaches once their careers have peaked.
Predictably, other South Atlanta League affiliates are jumping on the promotional opportunities that Tebow presents. The Lexington Legends are reportedly offering a “Ten Tebow Ticket Package” that includes all 10 home games against the Fireflies. You can be sure the Fireflies themselves will market the heck out of this, too.
Much of this makes the average baseball fan roll eyes. The sport is full of legitimate superstars right now, from Clayton Kershaw to Mike Trout, from Mookie Betts to the ever-unlikable Bryce Harper. Baseball fans already have something of an inferiority complex when it comes to football, which has asserted itself as America’s favorite pastime.
And now this NFL castoff is attracting all this mainstream attention, while the sport’s actual stars continue to go about their business.
Industry experts have railed Tebow when it comes to his actual baseball skills, and to be fair, he’s pretty bad. But has anyone considered whether the Tim Tebow Experience could actually benefit the sport?
Aside from the obvious marketing campaigns that could emerge from this phenomenon, one should consider baseball’s very real difficulties in attracting young Americans to the game, particularly ones from urban areas. MLB created an entire youth outreach program — Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) — to help combat this problem.
Now here comes Tebow, the most recognized football player in professional baseball since Deion Sanders was drawing dollar signs in the dirt.
Actual two-sport stars like Russell Wilson would’ve been better additions, but maybe Tebow’s attempt is the start of something bigger. Former Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings signed with the Atlanta Braves this offseason, despite not playing the game since high school. Perhaps more former SEC football players will follow, especially given football’s long-term player safety concerns.
Who knows where this could lead? Maybe it’s only a novel attraction for now, but Florida fans have to be curious how Tebow will fare in Columbia.
— SI Extra Mustard (@SI_ExtraMustard) March 10, 2017