From the outset, Tim Tebow’s pro baseball journey was going to follow its own unique path. Making the move to baseball as a 29-year-old in 2016 was a bold step. Tebow had not played the game competitively since his junior year of high school. His athleticism provided Tebow with no guarantees, but the former quarterback has shown promise in his rise through the Mets’ farm system and earned a place on the Double-A Eastern League’s All-Star team.
Tebow came to the game after a career on the gridiron that saw him win a Heisman Trophy playing quarterback for the Florida Gators, and then help the Denver Broncos reach the playoffs in just his second season as a pro before ultimately washing out in the NFL. He played just two seasons with Denver and one with the Jets, failing to catch on with the Patriots and Eagles.
Now in his second season as a baseball player, here’s how Tebow has gone from a quarterback raising eyebrows with an attempt to play baseball to a minor league All-Star.
2016: The tryout, the deal and initial action
To get things started in August 2016, Tebow announced he would hold his own MLB tryout at the end of the month. On Aug. 30, that event at USC’s Dedeaux Field drew scouts from 28 of 30 teams.
What Tebow showed there drew quick rewards. On Sept. 8, he signed a minor league contract with the New York Mets. In a conference call announcing the deal, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson dealt with the initial questions about how seriously they took Tebow as a prospect, stating, “While I and the organization, I think, are mindful of the novel nature of this situation, this decision was strictly driven by baseball.”
Tebow followed up by taking his first cuts in instructional league with other Mets prospects on Sept. 28 — where he hit his first home run in his first game:
— Katie Johnson (@Katie_Johnson_) September 28, 2016
Tebow was subsequently assigned to the Arizona Fall League to play with and against some of the top prospects in baseball. He hit just .194/.296/.242 while striking out 20 times in 71 plate appearances (28 percent).
April 2017: Tebow takes the field as a Firefly
Tebow started the season in spring training with the big league club, but he struggled to connect in exhibition action, going 4-for-27 at the plate with no extra-base hits and eight strikeouts before getting reassigned to minor league camp. He finally made his regular-season debut playing at the lowest level among the Mets’ full-season farm teams in the South Atlantic League.
First game: April 6, 2017 for the Columbia Fireflies (low-A).
First home run: Hit in his first game in his first at-bat on April 6 for the Fireflies.
Final batting line with the Fireflies: .220/.311/.336 in 64 games.
June 2017: He’s a Met — a St. Lucie Met
Despite his weak hitting line in the Sally League, Tebow was promoted on June 25 to the Mets’ high-A Florida State League affiliate in St. Lucie. He initially swung a hot bat, putting together a 12-game hitting streak before eventually cooling off at the plate.
First game in high-A: June 28, 2017, for the St. Lucie Mets.
First home run in high-A: June 28, 2017, in the second game of a doubleheader, so he keeps a streak of first-day homers alive.
Final batting line as a (St. Lucie) Met: .231/.307/.356 with five home runs.
Tebow’s combined hitting line for 2017 winds up at .226/.309/.347 with 34 extra-base hits — eight of them home runs. Equally notable, Tebow proved to be a big draw at the gate, boosting attendance; the Florida State League seeing a 12 percent spike overall despite his playing just a half-season in the circuit.
July 2018: Tebow’s second season (so far)
Tebow returned to spring training with another non-roster invitation from the big league team and Alderson’s comment that he’d play in the majors someday. But hampered by a spring training ankle injury, Tebow was reassigned to minor league camp again for an assignment to Double-A to play with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.
At 30 years old, Tebow is the oldest hitter in the Eastern League, but he also has shown improvement and growth at the plate, and the pace seems to be picking up. He hit .301 in June and has followed it with a .391 average and .417 on-base percentage in the first seven games of July going into the Eastern League All-Star break. The question now is whether he can sustain that success, because that’s the kind of production that could earn a call-up to the major leagues.
First game in Double-A: April 5, 2018 for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.
First home run in Double-A: April 5, 2018 in his first game for the Rumble Ponies, so it’s still sort of a thing.
Tebow’s best minor league month (June 2018): .301 batting average, .338 on-base percentage and 22 hits in 24 games.
Batting line so far as a Rumble Pony: Tebow is hitting .270/.337/.390.
Career line through 202 games: .241/.319/.362, 64 walks and 221 K’s in 671 at-bats, 36 doubles, 3 triples, 13 homers, 78 runs scored and 85 RBIs.
Overview: Tebow vs. other two-sport players
Among recent hitters who have played both baseball and in another professional sports league, Tebow is starting to make his mark. He has 12 career home runs in the minor leagues, which is more than these equally notable two-sport pros during their minor league baseball careers:
• Michael Jordan (1994): 3 in 127 games, while hitting .202/.289/.266.
• Ricky Williams (1995-1998): 4 in 170 games, hitting .211/.265/.261.
• John Elway (1982): 4 in 42 games, hitting .318/.432/.464.
• Russell Wilson (2010-2011): 5 in 93 games, hitting .229/.354/.356.
• Danny Ainge (1978-1980): 6 in 226 games, hitting .237/.289/.289.
• Bo Jackson (1986, 1991): 7 in 59 games, hitting .281/.373/.458.
The key number in that list is games played. Jackson wasn’t destined to be in the minors for long, nor was Ainge, as both logged considerable playing time in the major leagues. Williams and Wilson, not so much.
The really unusual name in the mix is Elway. The Hall of Fame quarterback spent part of one season in the New York-Penn League with the Yankees organization before he was drafted first overall in the famous 1983 NFL draft; baseball was more of a fallback option and strengthened Elway’s demand for a trade away from the hapless Colts before he played a down as a pro.
Among notable two-sport players, Tebow has yet to catch up to these five — again, only in terms of their minor league career numbers:
• Deion Sanders (1988-2001): 19 in 253 games, hitting .286/.351/.433.
• Brian Jordan (1988-2006): 22 in 226 games, hitting .292/.355/.449.
• D.J. Dozier (1990-1993): 39 in 391 games, hitting .272/.365/.452.
• Drew Henson (1998-2003): 67 in 501 games, hitting .248/.304/.424.
• Chris Weinke (1991-1996): 69 in 716 games, hitting .248/.337/.381.
Four of those five players ultimately made it to the majors. Sanders and Brian Jordan had solid careers in both sports at the highest level, but each was better at one than the other — Sanders earned induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Jordan was an All-Star and key player for the MLB Cardinals and Braves. Dozier and Henson barely surfaced in baseball, but they did at least make it to the Show.
Weinke’s career was the most unusual. He quit on baseball after six seasons as a Blue Jays farmhand, never reaching the majors and instead returning to college to play football, where he won the Heisman Trophy as a 28-year-old quarterback before playing six seasons in the NFL.