The Tim Tebow baseball experience has become very real now that the former Heisman Trophy winner is playing regularly for the New York Mets Single A affiliate the Columbia Fireflies. However, there are new reasons to question the authenticity of Tebow’s entrance into baseball dating back to his showcase last August.
The new reasons stem from a Sports Illustrated piece that revealed Chad Smith, one of the two pitchers used for Tebow’s showcase in Los Angeles along with former major leaguer David Aardsma, admittedly grooved Tebow some fastballs to help him impress scouts.
According to the report, Smith had been a fan of Tebow’s and was happy to put the spotlight on Tebow, who was also reportedly withholding an oblique injury from the attending teams.
Smith pitched to Tebow first, and Tebow looked rusty, as if getting his bearings. Every time he swung, he felt pain shooting down his left side from the tear in that oblique. Then Aardsma came on and made Tebow look worse. He repeatedly fooled Tebow with his off-speed stuff. He mixed pitches, locations, and got Tebow to swing and miss several times. The sequence exposed Tebow’s weakness: For all the reps he’d taken, he had no experience hitting a big-league changeup.
Then Smith went back out, and Tebow started flashing his power, hitting line drives again. Thwack, thwack, thwack. See, maybe this was Tebow’s baseball moment. Maybe this was another fourth-quarter comeback. If you saw those line drives, part of you might have started believing.
What you didn’t see was Chad Smith, on his way to the mound, telling Tebow, “Be ready for some fastballs,” and then grooving a few pitches right where Tebow liked them. It was the least he could do. Afterward, Smith asked Tebow to sign a few balls for his parents, too.
It’s noted that Smith went full-on fanboy after the showcase, even asking Tebow to sign a few autographs for his family.
As if there wasn’t enough pre-existing resentment over Tebow’s foray into baseball, this will certainly add to it. As will comments from Mets general manager Sandy Alderson acknowledging that business and expanding the Mets “brand” trumped baseball when the team weighed its decision to extend a minor league offer with a $100,000 signing bonus last September.
Alderson explained his thinking like this: Say there was a scale to evaluate Tebow—at one end was signing him strictly for his baseball talent, and the other was to capitalize on the “Barnum and Bailey” effect, as Alderson put it. The Mets, he said, were “somewhere in the middle” of that scale. “The Mets have a brand,” Alderson said. “I looked at Tim as someone who wouldn’t necessarily enhance the brand; he wouldn’t degrade the brand. But he would sure expand the brand.”
So Alderson recruited Tebow hard. He promised to allow Tebow to continue with his various off-field ventures, all while supporting him on the field and giving him as many reps as needed. Alderson offered a $100,000 signing bonus, and Tebow signed on, believing that the Mets were fully behind him. Now, Alderson asked, “Would we have done it without the celebrity element? Probably not. … So?”
Perhaps the most interesting element here is how the Mets sold their interest to Tebow and his representatives, and how that differed from the internal line of thinking. Even though everyone on the outside looking in got the feeling they were more interested in the potential buzz than his ability, they obviously weren’t going to include that in their pitch to Tebow.
Whether or not Tebow was fully aware of these circumstances — Smith’s pitch-grooving included — and whether he’d be willing to go along with it probably doesn’t matter at this point. He’s too deep into it after appearing in the Arizona Fall League, a handful of spring training games and now becoming a full-time minor leaguer. But it’s not too late to question whether those circumstances harm the credibility of his baseball bid.
Perhaps the Mets will help answer that question in the coming weeks. Entering Wednesday, Tebow is hitting .231/.318/.372 with two homers and nine RBIs in 22 games. Those aren’t numbers that would typically earn a promotion, but with crowds increasing at Fireflies home games and even on the road, perhaps the Mets will look to spread that buzz around to other affiliates within the organization.
If a promotion comes, then we’ll know baseball isn’t simply secondary in this equation, it’s a complete non-factor.
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