Tim Tebow began his latest foray through the sports media spotlight Thursday, signing a minor-league deal with the Mets, who have consented to entertain the former quarterback’s far-fetched transition to baseball.
“This is an opportunity for us to associate with excellence,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said during a 37-minute conference call that doubled as a testimonial to Tebow, whom he called a “role model” who possesses “all the right emotional, personal, intellectual attributes that we’re looking to develop in those young players.”
At 29, Tebow is attempting to play a sport he gave up as a high school junior in Florida in 2005. He did so to focus on a football career that brought him a Heisman Trophy and two national championships at the University of Florida, and then a stalled career as an NFL journeyman. He hasn’t played a regular-season snap since 2012 with the Jets.
Yet Tebow bristled at the notion that spread throughout social media as fans and critics wondered aloud if the signing amounted to little more than a publicity stunt.
“Thankfully, I don’t really have to say anything to them,” said Tebow, whose journey will begin on Sept. 18 when he reports to instructional league in Port St. Lucie, Florida. “I just get to go pursue my passions and what I love, and that’s the great thing and the opportunity that we have in America. We get to do what we love. We get to pursue it.”
Tebow said he almost returned to baseball last year but got a call from the Eagles about resurrecting his football career. He was released before the start of the season.
Earlier this summer, Alderson bordered on dismissive when asked about his interest in Tebow, and it was unclear whether the Mets would even send a scout to the former quarterback’s recent showcase in Los Angeles. But Alderson ultimately spearheaded the signing of a player whom he called “one of the great athletes in recent years,” guided by a belief that the Mets would benefit even if Tebow never sets foot on a big-league field.
“He has demonstrated through his success, determination, personality, competitiveness, that I think all of us in the organization, particularly our young players, can benefit from seeing firsthand,” Alderson said.
Tebow’s chances of ever playing in a major league game are slim, making him no different from thousands of others who attempt the journey from the lowest rungs of the minor leagues. Those chances are further diminished by an 11-year break from the sport, a hiatus so long that in the official news release to announce the signing, the Mets needed one paragraph to summarize his baseball career.
“There’s going to be a little bit of rust,” said Alderson, who did not go into details about the Mets’ scouting report from Tebow’s workout, except to say that he was “intrigued” by his athleticism and potential.
Alderson took care to insist that the signing was “strictly driven by baseball” and not “marketing considerations or anything of the sort.” He downplayed Tebow’s connection to agent Brodie Van Wagenen, who also represents prominent Mets Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Yoenis Cespedes, who holds an opt-out clause that would make him the team’s most important free agent.
But the Mets dispensed with any delusion of treating Tebow with normalcy. He will receive a $100,000 bonus, according to a source, an unusual though not unprecedented sum. For undrafted free agents, it is the maximum allowed by rule without penalty.
Tebow will be excused from instructional league on football weekends so he can continue his work as an analyst for ESPN. It is a concession that several of Tebow’s suitors were willing to make, including the Mets.
Despite the former quarterback’s lack of professional baseball experience, Alderson did not rule out inviting Tebow to major league spring training. But first Tebow must cross the first bridge before him, beginning the process of refining a lefthanded swing that has been mothballed for more than a decade. As for a defensive position, he’s open to any spot where lefthanded throwers customarily play.
Success, he said, will be measured simply by giving his best effort. Alderson remained vague on a timeline for reaching the major leagues.
“It’s something that I do not take for granted,” Tebow said of his new chance. “It’s something I’m very excited about. I’m looking forward here in a couple of weeks to getting to work and showing up in Port St. Lucie, not too far from home, and really starting this journey. I know that it’s not one that will necessarily be easy.”