Tebow undeterred by move to Minors

Former college football star stays positive, has many singing his praises

March 12th, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- Unruffled by the news of his reassignment to Minor League camp on Tuesday, Tim Tebow packed his bags, said his goodbyes and traversed the short route to the other side of the Mets' complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla..

“It’s only like three minutes away,” Tebow said, laughing. “We also have cell phones, too. Yeah, I’ll stay in touch with these guys.”

Realistically, Tebow will continue making trips to big league camp as one of the players the Mets regularly borrow for Grapefruit League games. On most days, though, he’ll be in the Minors receiving the consistent at-bats he needs to develop as a hitter.

“He’s improved tremendously since last year,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said of Tebow, who went 4-for-15 with three strikeouts and one walk in eight Grapefruit League games. “You’ve got to give him credit for that. He’s going to go down there and continue to work, and see if he can fulfill his dream. I would never count Tim Tebow out.”

Few, at this point, deny Tebow’s chance at cracking the big leagues, perhaps as soon as this season. He will begin the year at Triple-A Syracuse, just a promotion away from that goal.

It’s quite different from the situation Tebow faced a year ago, when he sprained his left ankle early in spring and appeared in games only as a designated hitter. Although Tebow rebounded to bat .273 with a .734 OPS at Double-A Binghamton, even making the Eastern League All-Star Game, his ankle bothered him for most of the early summer. Then in late July, a broken bone in his right hand forced a premature end to his season.

Tebow underwent surgery and descended into his offseason, which included regular appearances as a college football analyst for ESPN and the SEC Network. During those road trips, he often flew out his swing coach, former Orioles and Dodgers outfielder Jay Gibbons, to work with him. Seeking out batting cages on college campuses to supplement their regular work together, the two hit for about 12 to 14 days per month on average.

“He’s got so much drive like I’ve never seen,” Gibbons said in a telephone interview. “I would never count this guy out.”

When Gibbons first met Tebow in 2017, the former Heisman Trophy winner “gripped the bat like a gorilla,” decreasing his swing’s speed and fluidity. Slowly, Gibbons taught him the same way he would a Little Leaguer, instilling baseball knowledge into the football player’s brain. Tebow has also worked with fellow Jacksonville, Fla., native Daniel Murphy, as well as the various Mets players and instructors he sees throughout the year. This spring, Tebow lauded second baseman Robinson Cano and hitting coach Chili Davis in particular for their help.

The effects have been stark. Earlier this month, when Gibbons traveled to Florida to watch a few games, he saw something completely different than when he first set eyes on Tebow a year and a half ago.

“For the first time, you’re starting to blend in,” Gibbons told him. “There’s not that big gap of a football player trying to figure it out. He’s starting to look like a baseball player.”

Tebow’s life may be filled with other diversions -- a movie, a reality television show, broadcasting work and charity initiatives -- but baseball is no mere hobby. While the Mets’ current administration has not been as outspoken as the last one in terms of predicting a big league future for him, the expectations surrounding Tebow have only grown.

“I see myself trying to get better every day,” Tebow said. “If I get that opportunity, it will be a blessing. Either way, I’m going to continue to work as hard as I can to be the best that I can. If one day it’s good enough to do that, then that would be really fun.”