In Tebow, Minor League Baseball Stands on the Shoulder of a Giant

Why did we let John get his writing mojo back?

It’s time to stop taking the high road and to admit – Tim Tebow is good for baseball, especially in the minor leagues.

Yet another story surfaced this week about Tebow’s impact on the people he meets whilst on the road with the Mets’ Double A club, the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. This particular tale concerns the Trenton Thunder bat boy, Tommy Smith, with whom Tebow formed a bond this past week. By week’s end Tommy had ‘defected’ to the Rumble Ponies, lining up alongside Tebow for the national anthem, and ‘punking’ the star quarterback into a clubhouse hug, by aping his favourite WWE superstar, John Cena.


Tebow himself laid all the plaudits at Tommy’s door, telling the Trentonian:

“He’s really cool. I love it every time he gets a bat and he starts putting his hands up and getting crowd hype. It brings me a lot of joy to watch that and also watch the crowd react to him.”

This is just the latest in a litany of outstanding messages for Tebow. The Erie Times-News Tom Reisenweber, who follows one of the Rumble Ponies rivals, the Erie Seawolves noted on Twitter that Tebow is ‘…a big-time role model and great guy’. The Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond perhaps put it best in this tweet over the weekend:


Those of you with long memories will remember the ribaldry in these parts (and many others) that met the news that Tebow was parsing his national fame as an NFL and CFL quarterback cum analyst into a career in Minor League ball, with aspirations toward the bigs. At their nub the criticisms – including our own – were spiteful and mean. There was something of the Bruce Wayne about Tebow’s endeavours – a bored rich person indulging their fancies; except Tebow wasn’t channeling his suffering to fight crime, but his celebrity to play baseball.

The assumptions about his field smarts were fair. How would a 29 year old restart and succeed in a sport he hadn’t played since he was 16? And how would an athlete of Tebow’s skill set and background take that final step where one of the States’ greatest sportsmen – Michael Jordan – had failed?

That read on Tebow the ballplayer arguably remains in place, although Baseball Prospectus’ Jarrett Seidler offered cause for cautious optimism in a recent review of Tebow the prospect. In short – he is not a good baseball player, and suffers from a ‘grooved swing’ with little projection, but he isn’t rolling out there in a clown car for every at bat. In that, Tebow arguably suffers from a similarly ‘mechanical’ approach which doomed his NFL career (he was seen as having too slow and predictable a throwing action). Seidler clarified later that his article ‘did not mean’ that Tebow was a prospect, merely that he was surpassing (very low) expectations.

His slash line for June (cue ‘small sample size’) is an impressive 320/370/480, and his season line passes muster at AA – 256/336/400. All of which is to say, he doesn’t stand out for bad reasons. There is no reason for the Mets to not field Tim Tebow, except that he’s 30 and his teammates are, on average, almost 6 years his junior.

But I’m not really here to discuss that – the likes of Jarrett are far better placed than I to take you through those points.

What I do feel able to say is this – based on the opinions of others, better placed than I am, Tim Tebow is ‘good enough’ to be in the Minor Leagues as a player.

It’s also quite clear that Tebow the star attraction is an equal boon to the sport. He brings the fans out in droves to every town he visits. Cynics may prefer the purity of the sport; that the kids come out to see the real prospects – the Bo Bichette or Juan Soto on each team. But that ignores the reality of Minor League ball – which uses ruses like the monkey rodeo, cotton candy hot dogs and dog shows to fill the park night after night.

So what if Tebow fills a park in Pennsylvania or New Hampshire for 10 nights a year – it is expanding interest in the sport. By all accounts Tebow wears his stardom lightly; he is a patient and becoming celebrity, happy to offer the ‘rub’ of his standing to his teammates and the sweep of his pen to the youngsters of every town he visits. That may not seem like much, but I speak from personal experience (in baseball, and other sports) that the minimum ofter seems a step too far.

I first became aware of Tebow as the poster child of Christian causes during his career as the University of Florida’s star quarterback. When I shared my admiration of the man last week a friend reminded me that I arguably don’t share all of Tebow’s views. As a lapsed Catholic, that’s little surprise.

But that shouldn’t, and at least in my instance, doesn’t detract from my opinion of his outlook and approach to good causes. He is – to put it bluntly – an example of a prominent Christian using his platform for good. He takes particular interest in disability issues, celebrating the diversity and difference of young people with special educational needs – as can be seen through his brush with Tommy last week.

Again, cynics may argue that Tebow focusses on disability issues to further the cause of his ‘pro life’ position. If this is true, that matter is never in headlights, and the activity is – without question – a good thing. Despite improvements in the living conditions for, and understanding of, learning disabilities, those affected often remain at the margins of society and so any champion of their cause and contribution must be welcomed.

One of the central teachings of Batman, is that a ‘city’ will get the hero it deserves – in Gotham this is the eponymous character – vengeful and driven by spite. In Tebow, perhaps the minors have their own version – a hero as selfless as the many men and women who work long hours for poor pay to bring joy and reward to their local communities.

Whether he’s a hero or not, those good people deserve a little of the ‘rub’, the stardust he trails through their town every other month. And his teammates will surely learn a lot about humility from Tebow, even if they’ll learn little about plate discipline.

Diamond’s suggestion, however flippant, increasingly feels like a premonition rather than the incredulous tale that Chapter Two of Tim Tebow’s athletic career seemed at first. The Mets are a ragtag bunch this year, and a place for Tebow alongside the ragged corpse of Jose Bautista and the avatar of Jose Reyes, would arguably seem less egregious than some of the rest of their likely September roster.

Regardless, it seems certain that another office in NY – that of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred – is wondering how and whether they can bottle Tebow’s charisma and good standing to spike the protein shakes of Mike Trout and Mookie Betts during meal prep.

The Tebow journey started out as something of a joke, and arguably remains such. But jokes are supposed to make you laugh, and I’m not laughing any longer. Merely smiling at the light which the presence of this man – this joke – has shone of the wider sport of baseball, and its continued contribution to the American way of life.

The Thunder’s manager Jay Bell put it perfectly, when asked about Tebow’s bond with Tommy:

“Tim is really good with Tommy and people who are around the baseball field like Tommy. He is extraordinary. He’s done a really good job. I’ve heard nothing but fantastic stories about him.”

As punchlines go, it’s low on chuckles, but arguably better for it.

Image Credit Kyle Franko

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