Former Florida Gators and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow plans to pursue a professional baseball career.
That may have surprised many, but Boo Mullins had an entirely different reaction to the news Tuesday.
Mullins, Tebow’s baseball coach at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., more than a decade ago, has been waiting for that announcement for a while.
“Personally, I said to myself, ‘It’s about time,'” Mullins told SEC Country. “I’ve been waiting to hear it. I wanted to hear it 10 years ago and eight years ago and seven years ago, but football was first in his heart and baseball second.”
But Tebow’s storied football career, which included a Heisman Trophy and two national championships at Florida in 2006 and 2008, has stalled. He was in training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles last summer, but he didn’t make the team.
He last played in an NFL game with the New York Jets in 2012, and with his options for a return to the league drying up, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday morning that Tebow plans to hold a workout for Major League Baseball teams later this month with the hopes of latching on with an organization.
He turns 29 years old next week, which is well beyond the the typical age of a minor league prospect, but Mullins — who pitched in the majors briefly with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1998 — still believes Tebow has a legitimate chance to find success in the sport.
He’s always believed that.
“I tried to talk him into playing baseball out of high school. I tried to talk him into playing two sports over (at Florida),” Mullins said.
“… Yes, I’ve been waiting on it to happen. When the NFL thing happened the way it has, it’s honestly been on numerous occasions in my mind. I thought he was a professional (baseball) talent when he played for me. There’s no doubt in my mind if he had announced he was going to play two sports he would have been a draft pick.”
Gary Sheffield earlier on Tim Tebow… pic.twitter.com/P99rNwUV7B
— Russillo and Kanell (@RussilloKanell) August 9, 2016
Joey Russell, Mullins’ assistant coach at Nease, feels the same way.
Like Mullins, he hasn’t talked to Tebow in a while, but he was intrigued by the news Tuesday.
“I wish he would have done it sooner,” Russell said. “We talked about it a lot. He easily could have been drafted out of high school if that had been what he wanted to do. It would have been a no-brainer. He just had unbelievable physical talents. He’s got all the intangibles you want, that you hear about all the time. Honestly, I wanted him to continue to play, but he made the right decision going to Florida and doing what he did.”
Corey Pye, a high school baseball teammate of Tebow’s, said he didn’t see this coming, but then again he knows how driven Tebow is as an athlete.
“I didn’t see this coming along. It is surprising, but it doesn’t surprise me at the same time, if you know what I mean,” he said.
While Tebow was becoming a familiar name for his football prowess at Nease High School, he was also a star on the baseball field. He reportedly batted .494 as a high school junior before enrolling early at Florida prior to his senior season.
His power is what stood out to his coaches back then.
“I played in the big leagues and he could hit a ball as far as any of those guys when he was 18 years old,” Mullins said.
He recalls one Tebow home run in particular in the district tournament at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine, Fla., that he estimates must have traveled 460-470 feet, over the busses on the back side of the parking lot.
“He was raw as a baseball player. He had a ton of power,” Russell said. “He could hit the ball as hard as anybody. He had a good arm. He could have pitched for us, but we didn’t use him as a pitcher because of his football (future). But he could do it all. He could run, he could play anywhere defensively and he could swing it.”
Said Pye: “He’s just an athlete. He wasn’t as good as he was at football, but he was still good at baseball. He was a guy with raw power that could hit the ball a long way.”
The scouts who would come to watch Nease’s pitching prospects at the time couldn’t help but notice Tebow even though it was well known that he was one of the most coveted football recruits in the country, Mullins said.
“Three or four teams got really interested in him. He was a pro talent. He was a major league pro talent,” he said. “If Tim was just a baseball player, I believe he would have gotten drafted out of high school and I think he certainly would have played Division I baseball and been as (much) a success at that as he was at football. And that’s (with the perspective of) me grading talent for college.”
— Gary Sheffield (@garysheffield) August 9, 2016
Mullins spent seven years as the head coach at NAIA-level Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga., from 2009-15.
But can a 29-year-old Tebow, who hasn’t played competitive baseball since those days at Nease High School, really hold his own in minor league baseball and have a chance at making the big leagues?
“Me being that guy and playing (pro ball) for seven years and seeing what it took and seeing other guys spend 10 and 12 years in the minor leagues, it’s going to be tough,” Mullins admitted. “He hasn’t played baseball competitively in eight or 10 years. Even playing at the college level, that’s going to be tough and now we’re talking about the professional level.
“It’s going to be a feat, but I’ll say this, if anybody can do it, Timmy can do it because of his work ethic and his God-given ability.”
That was a familiar response from those who still remember Tebow the baseball player back at Nease more than a decade ago.
That he’s facing an uphill challenge, but well, who knows …
“I know that he’s going to put the effort into it,” said Pye, now an assistant baseball coach at Tallahassee Community College. “… I know that his work ethic, he’s going to put the time in because that guy put the time into everything he did back in the day. You never know with the good Lord blessing him. If anybody can do it, it could definitely be him, but it’s going to be a hard road.”
Pye also suggested he wouldn’t be surprised if Tebow turns to pitching if he finds he’s having trouble adjusting as a hitter, and he guesses his former teammate could probably fire a fastball in the upper 80s right now without any training or practice.
Said Russell: “He was a great kid to coach and can really probably do anything he puts his mind to.”
Ryan Young is a Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.