You believe it’s nothing more than a marketing gimmick, a public relations stunt, and then you hear Tim Tebow’s voice.
You ask yourself why Tebow is bothering to even give baseball a try, after not even playing for 11 years, and you listen to his conviction.
You wonder why the New York Mets, the defending National League champions and in the middle of another playoff race, would open themselves to ridicule by signing Tebow to a minor-league contract, and you listen to Mets general manager Sandy Alderson’s rationale.
Now, you understand.
“This is our opportunity,’’ Alderson said, “to associate with excellence.’’
Let’s be honest here: Tebow will never play a day in the major leagues.
We’re not talking about Bo Jackson. This is not Deion Sanders. It’s not even Michael Jordan, who stepped away from the NBA for a year.
This is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson coming to the Texas Rangers’ camp one day each spring to talk with the players, take a few ground balls, and sign autographs.
This is country singer Garth Brooks coming to various spring training camps over the years, hanging around the players, signing more autographs than the entire team combined all spring, and providing a little spice in the monotony of spring.
Now, it’s Tebow Time.
This is a 29-year-old quarterback who ran out of opportunities in the NFL, hasn’t played organized baseball since his junior year in high school, who spends his weekends as an ESPN college football analyst.
Oh, and yes, that will continue.
Tebow is under contract with ESPN to broadcast Southeast Conference football games again this fall, so even though he’s scheduled to report to the Mets’ instructional league camp on Sept. 18, he’ll be taking off one or two days each week for his real job.
“I’m not worried about it,’’ Alderson said, “we think that’s very manageable. From the very outset, we understood he had made a commitment, when he makes a commitment, he follows through, so this is not going to be a significant impediment.’’
In other words, please, let’s not take this baseball gig too seriously, if Tebow isn’t.
“Our 18- and 19-year-old kids who show up in instructional league next week,’’ Alderson said, “are going to get a chance to associate with one of the greatest athletes of recent years.’’
Ah yes, this is what it’s all about.
Tebow, who couldn’t play quarterback for the New York Jets four years ago, but still found himself in the news virtually every day and on the tabloids’ back pages, now will be doing it for the Mets.
It’s like a modern-day version of Bob Hope visiting the troops during the holidays.
Come on, just a month ago when Alderson was asked whether the Mets would ever consider signing Tebow, he responded by saying: “Are you insinuating we need a Hail Mary at this point?”
Now, on a Thursday morning conference call, Alderson found himself needing to explain himself.
“I voiced a little skepticism about Tim and his desires at the outset,’’ Alderson said, “but much to my surprise, and after due diligence and some scouting on my part and others, we thought it was a good opportunity for the Mets.’’
Alderson, reading the minds of everyone on the Mets’ conference call, as well as seeing the cynicism on social media, let everyone know this wasn’t about publicity, ticket sales, or merchandising opportunities.
Well, that’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.
“While I and the organization are mindful of the novel nature of this situation,’’ Alderson said, “this decision was strictly driven by baseball. This was not something that was driven by marketing considerations or anything of the sort.’’
Oh, of course not.
Alderson went on to tell us that Mets pitcher Seth Lugo was a 34th round draft pick in 2011, and rookie infielder T.J. Rivera was undrafted. He forgot to mention that Mets Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza was a 62nd-round draft pick, or he could have rambled about that for a few minutes, too.
“This is a classic player development opportunity for us to develop a player and see where it goes,’’ Alderson said. “We are extremely intrigued by the potential Tim has. We understand most players don’t make it to the major leagues. But aside from Tim’s age and his absence from the game as reasons he can’t make it, there are four or five reasons cited why he will make it.
“In our case, we’re willing to find out. We’re willing to spend the next four to five years finding out.’’
It won’t take that long, of course. Tebow, who said he loved the game of baseball and began working out in 2015 until the Philadelphia Eagles called, won’t wait that long. He’s no longer a kid. He’s nearly a middle-aged man.
“I just get to go pursue my passion,’’ Tebow said. “That’s what’s great about America. I can pursue this awesome game of baseball, give everything I have to it and continue to work.’’
The Mets will continue insisting to anyone who’ll listen that this isn’t a publicity stunt, right up until the day they bring Tebow as a non-roster player into their major league spring training camp.
Alderson insisted it’s not part of the agreement. There’s nothing set for Tebow after instructional league ends after three weeks. There’s a possibility of the Arizona Fall League. Or maybe winter ball, too. Yet, it’s quite possible, Alderson said, that Tebow will simply continue working out throughout the winter, receiving “more individualized instruction,” and be ready for spring training.
This is where we’ll find fans flocking to Tebow’s spring training games. And where the Class A Port St. Lucie Mets will set attendance records if this where Tebow likely winds up.
Again, Alderson tells us that nothing has been decided.
And please, he asks, stop with the conspiracy theories. It’s just a coincidence that Tebow’s representation at Creative Artists Agency just so happens to represent Mets’ co-aces Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, as well as slugger Yoenis Cespedes.
This is all about having one of America’s beloved role models, representing the Mets’ organization, and hoping that his aura can rub off on their young kids.
That is it, plain and simple, and no matter if this lasts six months, a year, or five years, the Mets will view it as a success, no matter if Tebow never puts on a big-league uniform.
“I think this will run its natural course,’’ Alderson said. “Again, we’re mindful of the fact that at age 29, Tim is starting this endeavor, and there’s a certain amount of realism we have to accept.
“We’re thinking about the beginning of this journey, and not the end.’’
Let the circus begin.
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today.