VERO BEACH, FLORIDA - Tim Tebow sat alone in a corner of the New York Mets clubhouse, quietly working his iPhone.
In an hour or so, Tebow would make his big league spring training debut against the Boston Red Sox.
Amid nationwide hoopla.
He looked relaxed enough, considering the situation.
So, MAS decided to sashay on over to where Tebow was seated and find out for sure.
“How’d you sleep last night, Tim?,” MAS queried.
The unfailingly polite Tebow stopped his tapping, looked up and smiled while chuckling.
He had caught MAS’ drift.
“Oh, I got a good night’s sleep, yeah,” Tim answered with an up-and-down shake of his head.
In terms of nerves, how did this compare, MAS’ follow-up question began, with playing for the national football championship in college or an NFL playoff contest?
“I think there’s a little bit of nerves that go with all of it, anytime you care about what you’re doing,” Tim offered.
Here was a guy who had won a Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at Florida and led his team to a pair of national collegiate titles.
Then, as a pro, Tebow threw a pass that gave the Denver Broncos an opening-round, overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
To him, it’s all the same.
Said Tim: “For any big game or any time I speak or talk before an audience of 10,000 or 300, I get a little nervous because you care about what you’re doing.”
At the relatively advanced age of 29, what Tebow is now attempting to “do” is make good on a belated shot at pro baseball.
This is not a publicity-grabbing stunt on the part of either the Mets or Tebow.
“Tim was a prospect before choosing football over baseball,” a Mets official said of his signing.
“He has quick-twitch muscle movement and excellent hand-eye coordination.
“We both thought it was worth a shot.”
Tebow debuted last September in the Arizona Fall League, a loop which offers development opportunities for younger pros.
Almost predictably, 11 years of rust showed. An outfielder, Tim hit just .194, while striking out in 20 of his 62 at-bats.
Undeterred, he showed up this spring eager to continue his attempt at making his childhood dream of being a big leaguer a reality.
When the Mets found themselves short-handed because a bunch of their players were off participating in the World Baseball Classic, they decided to give Tim a quick look-see and brought him up from their minor league camp.
Watching Tebow take batting practice that day prior to the BoSox game, MAS was impressed.
Tim, as the saying among people who have played the sport goes, “looked like a ballplayer.”
Unlike, say, Michael Jordan who never quite had that certain “look” during his well-intentioned but so-so stint as a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer.
During BP, MAS took a spot among a row of Red Sox players standing on the top step of the Boston dugout, his arms draped over the padded railing just like he was a real Red Sox.
(Picture this: shoulder-to-shoulder, numbers 32, 18, 16, MAS, 46, 17 and so on — yeah, just one of the boys, heh, heh.)
From that vantage point, MAS took in Tebow’s cuts, trying to analyze his swing.
Tim showed great power, but also popped up an inordinate number of pitches into the netting above the batting cage.
Hmmm, MAS thought to himself.
Turning to the BoSox player next to him, MAS asked: “See any holes in his swing?”
The player chortled and smilingly replied: “A couple.”
The inference of his response was clear: While the Red Sox player (who shall remain anonymous) respected Tebow as a great athlete and saw him as a decent ballplayer, he still thought Tim might have trouble hitting big league pitching.
Tim would go on to have an unspectacular debut that day.
He went hitless in three official at-bats and would be plunked by a pitch in his other AB.
Tim did not get any breaks from the home plate umpire that day, though.
He would take a called low- and-away strike three from last season’s AL Cy Young Award-winner Rick Porcello on a pitch that could have gone either way. He took another borderline third strike his last trip up.
But at least Tim didn’t whiff.
The left-handed-hitting Tebow’s highlight was a hard-hit double play ground ball to second base in his second plate appearance that scored a run.
For which he received a standing ovation from the fans at sold-out First Data Field, the Mets spring stomping grounds in Port St. Lucie, Florida .
Most folks there that day — as well as those observing from afar nationally — seem to be clearly behind Tebow in his attempt to make good in pro baseball.
The fact that his NFL career didn’t quite pan out is irrelevant to fair-minded fans. Tim’s merely attempting something they wish THEY had the chance — and skills — to try.
Of course, there is the occasional wet blanket never-wore-a-jock pundit or bitterly frustrated-with-his-life fan who pooh-poohs what Tim is trying to accomplish.
“Carnival act,” “charade” and “joke” were among the terms written or muttered.
They emanated, no doubt, from the same group of small-minded slugs that had previously ridiculed Tebow for his religious beliefs.
When asked about a female Tebow stalker who was arrested recently during spring training, Tim responded, “I’m praying for her and I hope she gets the help she needs.”
Yeah, that Tebow is a real horse’s arse, all right.
No worries, though.
As in the past, Tim pays his detractors no mind and is simply enjoying his pro baseball journey.
Wherever it may or may not lead.
Tebow realizes he needs catching up in certain areas.
“Pitch recognition is probably the biggest thing I need to work on,” he offered. “Hopefully, that will come with time and repetition.”
Since his hitless debut, Tim has gone 4-for-17, all singles, raising his MLB spring training batting average to .200.
A full 500 at-bat season will be necessary to better assess Tebow’s baseball future. Those ABs will likely come in the low-A ball level Florida State League or high-A South Atlantic loop (He was assigned to the Carolina Fireflies on Monday).
That’s either two or three steps away (there’s AA and AAA also) from a regular season roster spot in the big leagues.
When MAS chatted with Tebow, Tim was seated in a chair by the team’s eating area. His locker was over in the minor league complex several fields away.
At interview’s end, MAS wished Tebow luck climbing the Mets organizational ladder and told Tim he hoped to see him one day at a permanent locker in the big team clubhouse.
Tebow then offered his hand for an ultra-firm handshake.
“Thanks, bro, ‘preciate that,” Tebow said, breaking into the trademark weather-any-storm smile that has served him so well during his many ups and the few downs in his athletic career.
As they parted ways, MAS thought to himself: How can anyone in their right mind not pull for Tim Tebow?
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