Maybe not all of us will admit to it, but I think many of us have been curious to watch Tim Tebow’s foray into professional baseball.
When I was in the Pittsburgh clubhouse in Bradenton, Florida, earlier this spring, MLB Network chose to broadcast a Mets’ game in which Tebow was participating. MLB clubhouses have become more and more like your area Buffalo Wild Wings location, with multiple, large flat-screens usually adorning their interior to help pass the significant amount of stagnant time players spend there.
On this day, I entered the clubhouse shortly after the Pirates made a call to the bullpen. (It’s standard practice in spring for a team to permit media following the removal of the starting pitcher.) Several Pirates lingered in the mostly vacant room, including reliever Tony Watson, who turned his attention toward a television.
“Is that Tebow?” Watson asked aloud.
Even major-league players are curious how Tebow performs. A large part of that interest is probably tied to celebrity. Tebow was an ESPN favorite. It was difficult not to be aware of him. And not many Heisman winners quit football to give baseball a shot. If this were Brandon Weeden, or another failed pro quarterback, making an attempt at a baseball career, few would be paying attention. But part of this curiosity, I suspect, is also tied to this question: just how far away is an elite athlete with no professional baseball experience — and far removed from his amateur playing days — from being a passable major-league hitter? Essentially, how does (a very athletic) man off the street perform when thrown into a professional lineup?
I think we can all agree that Tebow isn’t a prospect, that he’s not likely to have a major-league career unless the Mets are desperate for an attendance bump. Eric Longenhagen saw Tebow last fall and quickly dismissed him as a prospect. From Longenhagen:
The crowds he draws, which, aside from the parking conditions they create, have been generally harmless. Last night’s game in Scottsdale was an unusually crowded mid-week affair with most of the fans raucously cheering for Tebow in a setting that is usually quite bookish. It created a unique environment in which to watch baseball, that’s for sure. Tools-wise, Tebow takes big, fun, aggressive hacks and he has some bat speed and power but his hand-eye is lacking and his swing is very long in the back. Several times he swung through hittable 89-91 mph fastballs because he couldn’t get there in time to punish them. His routes in left are raw, he has a 40 arm and is an average runner underway but below average from home to first. He isn’t a prospect, but he’s been gracious with the media and patient with the fans and autograph lines. It was weird watching a baseball game in which fan excitement was most palpable during a semi-routine fly ball to left field and not when a Yankees shortstop prospect hit one 380 feet the opposite way.
But Tebow gives us a different context, a different lens with which to understand how difficult it is to hit at the professional level, let alone advance to the major leagues.
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