This week, a month after Tim Tebow made his debut in the Arizona Fall League as a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions, the team’s manager said he still was waiting.
“I was waiting for us to get some Tebow time,” Tom Goodwin said. “I mean, the (Denver) Broncos got some Tebow time, Florida got Tebow time, we want to have Tebow time.”
Then came Monday night.
Bases loaded, two outs, game tied, bottom of the ninth. Tebow, who helped lead the University of Florida football team to two national titles and the Broncos to an NFL playoff victory, lifted the Scorpions to a 4-3 win against the Mesa Solar Sox with a game-winning base hit.
“So that’s Tebow time,” Goodwin said with a grin. “He comes through in the clutch.”
But the moment did not obscure the truth: Here in the Arizona Fall League, Tebow has demonstrated just how difficult it’s going to be for a 29-year-old former NFL quarterback to make it to the major leagues.
“He’s got an uphill battle, but he’s faced those before,” said Reggie Jackson, the former New York Yankees great who has worked with Tebow this week. “If there’s anybody that can do it, he can do it.”
Playing against some of the top prospects in baseball, Tebow was batting .146 (7-for-48) with 12 strikeouts and only one extra-base hit entering Wednesday’s game, his 14th here.
But Tebow said he’s making progress.
“I’m feeling like everyday I get a little bit more comfortable, in the field, at the plate, just going through the routine of baseball,” said Tebow, who has played left field and served as a designated hitter. “I just think my body’s getting more comfortable with that and the everyday routine of it, the little soreness of it, the recoveries, all those little things.”
Goodwin said Tebow’s statistics don’t reflect his development. Increased bat speed, a shortened swing and improved positioning in the outfield are among the things the Scorpions manager cited as progress.
He also said it’s far too early to rule out the possibility of Tebow making the major leagues.
“I’d never rule it out,” Goodwin said. “Not with a guy that works like he works. …
“Anytime you’ve got power and are fairly athletic, you can figure out the rest.”
Indeed, no one has questioned Tebow’s work ethic, although one teammate suggested it may be counterproductive. Tebow worked regularly with the Mets’ major-league hitting coach, Kevin Long, and wears bandages on his hands because all of the hitting has resulted in blisters.
“You can’t hit like that,” Taylor Ward, a catcher, said. “You can’t hit with your hands hurting and bleeding and torn up.”
Goodwin indicated he was taken aback when he first saw the bandaging.
“I thought he was hitting the punching bag,” he said with a smile. “I was like, ‘Dude, did you star in the movie Rocky 7?’ He was bleeding, there were blisters all over his hands. …
“That’s how he likes to work. You get blisters when you swing a lot.”
Asked to see his hands Wednesday, Tebow looked down at them said, “It’s OK. Let’s just put it this way, there’s been a lot of bandages on my hands for the last couple of months, that’s for sure."
“I don’t feel like I’m overdoing it yet,” he added. “I’ll listen to wise counsel with that. But at the same time, you’ve got to understand what gives you your edge. And my edge is I want to be the first one there and the last one to leave.”
To maintain that edge, Tebow said, he’ll continue to work out daily when the Arizona Fall League ends next week and until reporting for spring training with the Mets. Tebow’s work here has has been interrupted by his weekend duties as an college football analyst with ESPN, but his contract ends at the end of this season and he is expected to focus on baseball.
So far, he reports, there have been no big surprises in the Arizona Fall League.
“Honestly it’s a lot of what I expected, especially coming here,” he said. “You know, great players, great opportunity, it’s been a lot of fun.
“I’ve enjoyed Arizona and just really enjoying the process, one day at a time and continuing to work on all the things I’m working on and trying to improve every day.”
This week he got to work with Jackson, the Hall of Famer who serves as a special adviser with the Yankees. The Yankees along with the Mets and three other big-league clubs have players on the Scorpions roster.
“I mean, he’s got a month named after him, so that’s pretty cool,” Tebow said of the player known as Mr. October. “He’s awesome. I mean, so much knowledge and experience.’”
The question for Tebow is not if he can be another Reggie Jackson, but simply good enough to make the majors. And although Goodwin said it would be unfair to make any assessments about Tebow’s potential until he completes a full season in the minor leagues, not everybody is waiting.
During batting practice on Monday, a major-league scout who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject watched and said Tebow is in danger of remaining a 5 o’clock hitter — one who looks impressive during batting practice at 5 p.m., but looks altogether different at game time.
Another scout said Tebow looked awkward in the field and on the basepaths. Goodwin grew irritated when he heard about the scout’s remarks.
“How pretty did they expect it to be?” Goodwin said, noting Tebow had not played competitive baseball in more than a decade until this fall. “To be where he is right now, he’s fine.”