Tim Tebow is now a baseball player. Despite the interest from the Atlanta Braves, it was the New York Mets who finalized a deal with the legendary Florida Gators quarterback. The former NFL QB will start off with the Mets instructional team, where he will try to work his way up the development ladder. He will hope to make it to Columbia or St. Lucie, the team’s A and High-A clubs. With any luck he can make it to Binghamton, the Double-A affiliate.
The road for Tebow is going to be tough. It is not going to draw any comparison to Michael Jordan and his venture in professional baseball. For many baseball fans and members of the media, he is far from convincing us that he’s legitimately pursuing this as a passion. As Baseball Essential contributor and pitcher David Aardsma noted in his first impressions, Tebow is a raw talent. Despite his athleticism (which, some scouts noted, hurts him right now), he’s 29 years old and has not played competitive baseball in over a decade.
His value with teams is very limited, especially as a corner outfielder. He has very little time to turn himself into a major-league-caliber player. Despite the efforts of his coaches, Tom House and Chad Moeller, there is only so much they can do to help his below-average arm or his outfield reads. At some point, it falls on the player’s ability to make those adjustments on their own. This will be the key to Tebow making it out of instructional and the lower tiers of minor-league baseball.
In the case of him moving up to Double-A Binghamton, my neck of the woods, he’s going to be facing the creme de la creme of baseball prospects. These are the pitchers baseball nerds obsess about while reading Baseball America guides. This will be the make-or-break point of his career, if he reaches this level.
While not trying to cut down on the area, Binghamton is a dead industry town that thrived after the war due to IBM and Endicott-Johnson Shoes. The IBM industry has long since outsourced to other places. Endicott-Johnson has been out of business for a few decades. Beyond a few seasonal festivals, including one for a chicken marinade, sports are a main escape for people here. Maine-Endwell won the Little League World Series just a few weeks ago. Maine-Endwell also has a very good high school football program. There a strong devotion to local school athletics.
As for the Binghamton Mets, or B-Mets, they have been near the bottom of average attendance in the Eastern League for a few years. That’s not for lack of trying — the B-Mets always have events going on at the ballpark that drum up ticket sales to groups. Even being at a game a few weeks ago, there was a decent sized crowd to see the Portland Sea Dogs play. When you walk around the mall or downtown, there are always a few people wearing B-Mets gear.
For anyone who thinks Tebow is being signed to sell tickets, that seems like a misguided idea. Minor-league teams do not market themselves for the players, individually, since the roster turnover is so big. Jordan’s appearance in Double-A was a rare exception. Given how divided people are on the endless promotion of Tebow, he does not endear himself to everyone. That makes him a poor fit to advertise.
If — and this is a hypothetical “if” — Tebow makes it to Binghamton, it’s a limited appeal to promote him. Minor-league baseball is built on group-rate sales, between-inning giveaways from sponsors, Tom Hanks Night, free t-shirts/hot dogs, retired player autograph sessions, and stupid pop-culture-themed jerseys. Tim Tebow is a one-night-only novelty.
His debut at NYSEG Stadium will draw a crowd. They will pay the $10-15 to see him play. But you cannot market him if he struggles. No one, not even in a town that loves their football, will want to watch a 30-year-old outfielder hit below the Mendoza Line. That is the crucial flaw and ultimately how I imagine Tebow’s career will end.
Time will tell. If Tebow succeeds on the basis of his bat, he could get a call up to Binghamton. While the B-Mets front office would like to sell more tickets nightly, it cannot and will not be on the basis of Tim Tebow alone. His public persona and constant need for attention prevents him from having a long term appeal. His only saving grace would be his play, but that would get him promoted. Which sets up a paradox. In the end, welcome to the Mets farm club, Tim.