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Kolakowski: Tim Tebow’s baseball career is no media stunt

| Monday, February 18, 2019

When the New York Mets signed Tim Tebow to a minor league contract in 2016, many fans did not expect him to contribute to a Major League roster.

Tebow was a football player, and a darn good one at that, but he had not played organized baseball since high school. Disgruntled fans questioned why he was given a spot in a professional organization.

Tebow entered the Mets’ minor league system and struggled to perform against younger talent in Single-A. In 486 plate appearances between Low-A Columbia and High-A St. Lucie, Tebow posted a .656 OPS with only eight home runs and 52 RBIs.

After a year of seasoning in the minor leagues, Tebow entered 2018 ready to perform. He got off to a slow start with Double-A Binghamton in April, but his performance improved each month. By the end of June, Tebow was named to the Double-A Eastern League All-Star team. Less than a month later, Tebow broke his hand and his season was cut short. Tebow wrapped up his 2018 season with a .734 OPS and eight home runs in 298 plate appearance.

Now, as Tebow reports for 2019 spring training with the Mets, fans continue to ask why the former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy Award winner is pursuing a career in Major League Baseball.

Tebow was 5.7 years older than the average Eastern League athlete in 2018, according to Baseball Reference and he failed to stay on the field for the entire season last year. Tebow is now 31 years old and still has another level of minor league baseball to break through before reaching the show. It is reasonable to wonder if Tebow deserves a minor league roster spot that could go to a legitimate, young prospect.

Tebow brings publicity to the ballpark — he reigns in the casual fans and the Florida football fanatics. He attracts the media and sends merchandise flying off the shelves. Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal accurately described Tebow as the most famous professional baseball player, and it is not a particularly close contest. The minor leaguer has more star power than the game’s best athletes, including Mike Trout, Max Scherzer and Mookie Betts. For some, Tebow is nothing more than a publicity stunt.

The thing is, Tebow is famous for all the right reasons. He is one of the best college football athletes in recent memory. He was a first-round pick by the Denver Broncos in the 2010 NFL draft. After flaming out of the NFL, he worked diligently to make his way back into the league. Eventually Tebow turned his attention to baseball, a sport that he last played with Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. When he signed his pact with the Mets, he worked just to keep his head above water against professional baseball players.

This offseason, Tebow had an offer to join the emerging Alliance of American Football when Orlando Apollos head coach Steve Spurrier recruited Tebow to play quarterback, but Tebow turned down the offer.

“I’m all-in on baseball,” Tebow said at Mets spring training Saturday.

This weekend Tebow worked with his Mets teammates to host Special Olympics athletes in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He does a lot of good for baseball, even if Mets fans are not enthusiastic about his production on the field. The Mets might view Tebow as a cash grab and a publicity stunt, but Tebow certainly does not view himself in that way.

“I feel for all the young people out there that don’t go after something because they’re so afraid of failing that you’re going to live with a lot more regret than if you tried and you failed,” Tebow said Saturday. “I’m very passionate about that.”

Ultimately, Tebow is working hard to be successful on the baseball diamond. There is no reason to be cynical about that.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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