NEW YORK -- Even now, Tim Tebow is unwilling to put an expiration date on his big league pursuit. At an age when many players begin to consider retirement, Tebow is preparing to embark upon a fourth Minor League season.
The first three have not been uniformly smooth. In 2017, less than a year after shifting his career from football to baseball, Tebow struggled to gain his footing in Class A ball. He thrived the next season regardless, until a broken hand cut it short. In 2019, another hand injury forced Tebow to miss the final two months of the season. Finally, this summer, the cancellation of the Minor League season resulted in zero live game reps for Tebow (and hundreds of others).
He is 33 now, openly contemplating his life after baseball. He’s just not there quite yet.
“I’m already behind the 8-ball in age and time and experience in all of these things, so of course it makes it harder,” Tebow said in a telephone interview, his first about baseball since March. “But I think at the same time, I try to learn from every bit of it. And that’s all that we can do.”
When COVID-19 forced Major League Baseball to shut down Spring Training operations in March, Tebow was preparing to fly to Arizona to represent the Philippines in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers. Once the coronavirus canceled that trip as well, Tebow drove home to Jacksonville, Fla., unsure if his hiatus would last a few days, a few weeks or a few months.
Like many professional baseball players, he found places to hit and work out, going as far as to measure out basepaths on a local field. But that was largely the extent of what he could do. Even after the regular season began, the Mets never invited Tebow to train at their alternate site in Brooklyn, which they reserved for big league-ready players and top prospects. Nor did Tebow take part in the Mets’ brief instructional league.
So when he does take the field in 2021, likely at Triple-A Syracuse, Tebow will do so not having played a regular-season game in 21 months.
“There have definitely been some setbacks with it from two years ago when I was having what I thought was my best season,” Tebow said, referring to his All-Star first half at Double-A Binghamton in 2018. “Definitely disappointing this year with COVID, but … I’m such a believer that in some areas of my life, every setback has been an opportunity for a setup for something different and unique that I have planned. All these have been pieces of setbacks, but I think I’ve also learned from them, adapted and grown.”
Asked multiple times about playing for the Mets in 2021, Tebow left the door open for his eventual retirement, saying “it’s not something that I want to do forever … because there’s a lot of other things that are in my heart that I want to pursue."
“But it is something that is still in my heart today,” he continued, adding that he is training with the intent of reporting to Spring Training in February.
Although Tebow is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time next month, a Mets official said the team has no plans to protect him by putting him on the 40-man roster. That means there is a chance an enterprising club could select him with the intention of carrying him on their big league roster, though multiple industry sources characterized that as unlikely. Given Tebow’s lack of extended success against upper-90s fastballs, it would amount to a publicity stunt. Tebow himself laughed when asked about it, saying he’s never even considered the possibility.
A more likely scenario has Tebow continuing his baseball quest next spring, under the leadership of Mets general manager-turned-team president Sandy Alderson, who signed him in the first place back in 2016. Two years later, Alderson proclaimed that he believed Tebow would “play in the Major Leagues.” He is now back in position to make that happen.
In the meantime, Tebow will continue working on his off-field pursuits. Rather than travel around the world this summer for his various philanthropic initiatives, including the Tim Tebow Foundation, the Tebow CURE Hospital in the Philippines and a new venture to combat human trafficking, Tebow sought creative ways to pursue philanthropy. He took his annual Night to Shine Event virtual, for example, and worked with his hospital to house doctors and nurses in need of lodging during the pandemic. Just last week, the Tebow Foundation announced the opening of the 11th “Timmy’s Playroom” for children facing life-threatening illnesses.
In addition to his philanthropic work, Tebow has served as a college football analyst for ESPN and the SEC Network the past seven seasons, appearing on the latter every Saturday morning. Those pursuits will always be part of Tebow’s makeup. But his competitive desire also runs hot as he attempts to continue pressing toward the Major Leagues.
“There are a lot of things that I have weighed and am weighing [in my life],” Tebow said. “We’re trying to rescue as many trafficked survivors as possible. We’re trying to get Night to Shine in every country in the world. We’re trying to push a lot of things that I'm super passionate about that mean so much to me, and so there’s a balance of pursuing a sport that I love … versus also pursuing other passions in my life.”