Full disclosure, I have an orange and blue bias here: I went to the University of Florida.* Tim Tebow graduated in December 2009; I started in August 2010. We never crossed paths–never had a Rocks for Jocks class together or bumped into each other in the student union–but that’s not to say Tebow wasn’t part of my life. In high school, friends wore Tebow No. 15 jerseys and pearls for school picture day. At UF, his name was whispered in reverent tones around campus. He was a god.
It’s impossible to explain college football in the south if you haven’t been there. I spent 15 years in Florida and I still don’t quite get it. But there it is, dictating weekend schedules and friendships. In SEC territory, fall weddings are required to have TVs at the reception. Couples have broken up over team rivalries; no, seriously, I know a few. Tebow failing in the NFL doesn’t matter. He’s the pride and joy of the Sunshine State.
So when he decided to give baseball a try, I took 10 minutes to laugh and then texted everyone I still talk to from UF (there are only like three of them). Can you imagine if Tebow goes back to orange and blue after all this time?
He did, of course. On Sept. 8, before 8:00 a.m. and as everyone was groggily straggling into the office, Tebow became a Met.
I know the arguments against the signing:
- That $100,000 signing bonus could have gone to someone else, to an actual prospect or to someone who needs the money. Tebow is neither of these things. But were the Wilpons really going to reallocate those funds elsewhere if they hadn’t signed him? Probably not. I’d rather he gets the money than they pocket it.
- The former quarterback has controversial–I don’t want to get political, so we’ll just go with controversial–opinions and he’s been given another stage from which to proselytize. These are the opinions you get from the south. And if he hadn’t signed with the Mets, he still would have had a home at the SEC Network. Tebow’s controversial opinions weren’t going anywhere. Now at least maybe he’ll be too busy in batting practice to film commercials. And remember: this is a team that willingly, eagerly signed Jose Reyes, who was only made available after allegedly shoving his wife into a sliding glass balcony door in Maui. Morals are moot.
- He’s going to take playing time from an actual baseball player. I asked Jeffrey Paternostro, Baseball Prospectus senior prospect writer and BP Mets writer and For All You Kids Out There podcast host and whatever other title he’s added this week, for a name–not a lecture, just a name–of a player whose spot is going to be lost when Tebow rides into town. I got the lecture anyway, but I also got a name: Arnaldo Berrios. I feel bad that Berrios is going to lose playing time. I really do. I’m sure he’s a great kid. But if it weren’t Tebow taking his at-bats, someone else was going to.
- Tebow is probably, almost definitely, bad at baseball. Of course he’s bad at baseball. He’s not a baseball player. He doesn’t have baseball instincts. He hasn’t spent every free hour on a backfield playing long toss like hundreds of other minor league players have. No one thinks he’s going to be good at baseball. (Don’t cite batting practice home runs. Don’t respect people who cite batting practice home runs, either.)
The Mets don’t care if Tebow’s bad at baseball, because that’s not why they signed him. As soon as they were able to sell his shirseys, they stopped caring about getting him onto the 40-man roster too. The Tebow signing was about entertainment. The Wilpons have a product to sell, and that product is the Mets. Sure, that product is easier to sell when it’s hitting home runs and winning Cy Young Awards, but above all, they’re selling entertainment. And Tebow is entertaining.
The people want Tim Tebow. It’s as simple as that. For all their faults, the Mets aren’t stupid. They wouldn’t have signed Tebow without a plan. They’ll send him to Columbia or St. Lucie, to a team in a town that already trembles at his name. Those are the people who want to see Tebow in a Mets uniform. They’ll buy tickets and shirseys and line up along the left field fence for his autograph. They already did, in fact–a day after Tebow jerseys were made available online, they were the second most popular Mets nameplate sold at Fanatics, behind only Noah Syndergaard. Those fans are the ones the Mets front office cares about.
We forget sometimes, those of us who live online, on Baseball Twitter and in comment sections, that your “common baseball fan” does none of those things. Not “common baseball fan” in the negative sense it’s taken on, to mean stupid and ignorant. “Common baseball fan” as in the person who goes to the stadium purely for fun, who picks a favorite player because he made a great catch one time in an irrelevant Tuesday game in May. That’s the fan who MLB, and the Mets, care about. And that’s the fan who wants to see Tim Tebow play baseball.
Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas–USA Today Sports
( * – Florida State grad / Editor’s Note: No one is perfect.)