Tampa Bay Sports Day

WEEKEND FEATURE: Why Resist? Tebow Giving ’em What They Want

At some point everyone has to let the “give the people what they want” principle take over with this whole Tim Tebow thing.

Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner with the University of Florida and former NFL quarterback, has had his first spring training game action this week for the New York Mets. He isn’t in any way vying for an Opening Day roster spot and will begin his first professional season in Class A ball.

There hasn’t been much in the way of success at the plate. And there have been a handful of moments when he was totally out of step with the culture of professional baseball. But there also has been a lot of positive response from the fans at First Data Stadium in St. Lucie, Fla.

On Wednesday, in his first game action he played designated hitter. When he hit into a run-scoring double play, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Of course most of them didn’t notice that he meandered over to the Red Sox on-deck circle to get a good look at Rick Porcello’s delivery before he came to bat, something that is not done.

On Friday, he played the outfield and got a standing ovation for making a routine catch.
After going 0-for-3 on Wednesday, he was 0-for-4 on Friday with a line-drive out, two groundouts and a strikeout.

Tebow’s penchant for long drives in batting practice isn’t translating into games, to the disappointment of the fans.

But maybe that doesn’t matter. Tebow hadn’t played organized baseball since he was a star junior in high school when he signed with the Mets at the end of last season. He only has a bit of game experience from playing in the Arizona Fall League. But the fans — the paying customers who care whether the Mets win or lose after Opening Day — are interested. And surely more will be when he plays this minor league season.

After all, Tebow is doing this because he wants to give it a shot. What person with his kind of self-confidence wouldn’t take a crack at something they always dreamed of?

He is a great athlete and has a heralded work ethic. And while, no, Tebow hasn’t spent a lifetime in this world honing his craft, why assume he won’t get good with playing time. Good, not maybe major league great, but for now why put a ceiling on anything?

There seem to be a couple groups that really have issues with this.

The first is segments of the baseball establishment — players, managers, coaches, former players and members of the media — who find it insulting that someone would think they can pick up a ball and glove and do what it’s taken them a lifetime to accomplish.

“He certainly hasn’t and it shows, sometimes enough to make one wince, like when he called Mets manager Terry Collins “coach.” That’s also not done and Collins straightened him out. But, hey, everyone needs to learn some time that you don’t stand in the other team’s on-deck circle or call the manager “coach.” He’s coming to a new culture and those are mistakes you only make once.

And this group doesn’t include all players. Mets second baseman Neil Walker told reporters “if he came in here looking for publicity, he’s certainly not doing that. He’s in here to work. He’s in here to take his at-bats.”

“For a guy who played at such a high profile in sports, for him to say, ‘I’m willing to take a run at this,’ I think it’s a pretty cool thing,” Boston manager John Farrell said.

The other group that seems to be having an issue with this Tebow endeavor are the people who think it’s a stunt the Mets are pulling to bump up attendance at spring training and in minor league games, to increase sales of team merchandise and to get publicity.

It may be doing all those things, stunt or no stunt, but is that so important?

People like Tim Tebow. Though he was never the football success in the NFL that he was in college, they can’t take their eyes off of him. They care what he says and what he does: Tebow overlaps the ovals of athletes and celebrities.

They are coming out to cheer him — seemingly everything he does, including running every ball out at full speed — and they’re having fun. Tebow, too, says he is having fun and doing what he wants to be doing.

“For me it’s enjoying it every day. That’s a big part of it: having fun and playing a game that I started playing when I was 4 years old,” Tebow said Wednesday. “I know it sounds cliche, but I want to go to work at this thing and listen to the best in the world at doing it and coaching it and go strive to see what I can do.”