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Nightengale: Tebow Reports to Mets Ready for ‘Hardest Thing in Sports’

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Tim Tebow practices his swing during batting practice on Sept. 20, 2016 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Photo: Wilfredo Lee, AP Photo

Tim Tebow was everywhere Monday at the New York Mets spring-training camp, but nowhere to be found in the actually place that mattered.

You could find Tebow jerseys at the large tent outside the stadium complex.

There were Mets fans wandering around the complex cheering at the mere sight of him.

There were Mets players wearily being asked about Tebow.

And there was Tebow having his own press conference while the Mets’ players worked on the field before their spring-training game against the Houston Astros.

Yet, inside the Mets’ clubhouse, where there are lockers for 57 players in their big-league camp, none are reserved for Tebow.

He is inside the Mets’ minor-league clubhouse, several hundred yards away from the big-league clubhouse, which on this day seemed like years away.

Still, there was Tebow, smiling in front of all the cameras, putting on the positive spin during his 15-minute press conference, answering to the critics who believe it’s nothing more than a sideshow.

“I just kind of focus on what I can control,’’ Tebow says, “my attitude, my effort, my focus, trying to get better every single day. I’m not going to worry about whatever everybody is writing, what everybody is thinking, how I’m being marketed. I just want to learn the process and have fun out there.’’

And his odds of Tebow actually making the big leagues one day?

“I don’t have to give my chances,’’ he said. “That’s my ultimate goal. But I’ve had so much fun training, pursuing it. I enjoy the process, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to (play in the major leagues) someday.’’

Certainly, he faces the longest off odds. He is 29 years old. He has not played baseball since his junior year in high school. Now, he wants to be an authentic major-league player.

“I don’t think it’s a bigger challenge than I thought,’’ Tebow says. “You’re picking up a sport 12 years after not playing.  Part of the challenge is why it’s so fun, and why it’s something I’m enjoying and loving.

“Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing in sports.’’

Even if he never sets foot in the Mets’ major-league clubhouse, or advances past Class A, the Mets’ players have shown no resentment.

If nothing else, they’ve done nothing but show encouragement.’’

“It’s great that he’s chasing that dream,’’ Mets captain David Wright says. “I’m sure it’s very difficult not having played baseball for so long and trying to pick it up at the highest level.

“The short period of time that I’ve been around him, it seems like he’s focused on becoming the best baseball player possible. I think that’s all that anybody can ask of him.’’

Tebow spent a month last fall in the Instructional League, taking weekends off for his broadcasting gig. He went to the Arizona Fall League, where he had an abysmal showing, hitting just .194 in 19 games for the Scottsdale Scorpions, with 20 strikeouts in 62 at-bats.

During the winter, he worked out with Mets hitting instructor Kevin Long, Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, former catcher Chad Moeller and former All-Star outfielder Gary Sheffield.

“I got a chance to see him in person in January when I worked out with (Long),’’ Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson said. “His physical presence is amazing to see. He’s a very strong individual. He was talking about the game, wanting to learn the game, and wanting to work.

“He was hitting six times a week. His work ethic is through the roof, which obviously is what you have to have. So he’s not Cadillac-ing through this by any means. So it’s not just show up, roll me out there, here I am.

“If he doesn’t make it, it’s not because he didn’t try. If it doesn’t happen, it definitely won’t be because of efforts.  I’m excited to see what he can do.’’

The Mets, who signed him to a $100,000 contract last year, say there are no specific plans for Tebow this spring. Yet, there will be a time sometime this spring when the Mets will bring him over the major-league camp, just seeing what he can do, and providing a bit of a buzz to a mundane spring-training schedule.

“We are hopeful that (Tebow) will demonstrate enough progress in spring training,’’ Mets GM Sandy Alderson told reporters Sunday, “that we will send him to a full-season club.’’

Yes, where perhaps a sell-out crowd will be on hand, watching the spectacle.

“This game is about our fans, it will always be about the fans,’’ Collins told reporters Sunday. “I think our fans should get a chance to see him.

“This guy is a special person, tremendous athlete. He got a huge name in the sports world and he’s in our organization trying to be a baseball player. I’m certainly not going to take anything away from that.

“I salute him for what he’s trying to do. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be very difficult. But he’s a tremendous competitor. I know he’s a winner. That’s going to mean a lot in that big clubhouse full of young kids over there.’’

Maybe, this is what it’s really all about.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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