Looking for a ratings and attendance boost, Baseball could do worse than the phenomenon that is Tim Tebow
Let’s begin with the premise that you believe Major League Baseball is in trouble, and if you’ve been listening to Commissioner Rob Manfred and the billionaire cronies he works for lately, you might tend to agree.
Baseball’s attendance is down. Its players are striking out in astronomical numbers. The exaggerated shifts being employed by defenses are working too perfectly, cutting down offensive production with disturbing regularity. And their games are still too long.
So what does baseball do, given the finite options it has to improve the game without transforming it into something so unrecognizable diehard fans might also turn away?
Well, maybe you look for ways to create interest among the non-committal fan base, give them a reason, an
reason, to pay attention.
There is one currently playing for the Eastern League’s Binghamton Rumble Ponies, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Mets.
His name is Tim Tebow.
You likely have heard that the former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Florida, who played with varied success in the NFL for the Broncos, Jets, Patriots and Eagles, has been a professional baseball player for two years. He hadn’t played baseball full-time since he was a junior in high school.
Tebow certainly is not the Mets’ top minor-league prospect, far from it at age 30 (he will be 31 in August). But over the last few weeks, his batting average has incrementally improved to the point where some observers have begun to speculate that he’s a prime candidate for a September recall.
As of Friday, Tebow was hitting .261. In 2017, playing at two levels of Class A, Tebow hit .226 with just eight home runs.
It doesn’t sound he’s 40-man roster material, does it?
But it’s what he’s done over the last 10 games that has generated the buzz. With at least one hit in nine of those games, Tebow is hitting .406 (13-of-32) with nine RBIs. Tebow has raised his average 22 points since June 15.
When Binghamton was in Hartford, Conn., recently, he even homered off starter Peter Lambert, perhaps the hottest pitching prospect currently in the Colorado Rockies’ organization.
“I’m improving, seeing pitches, leaving some bad pitches,” Tebow told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin last week. “I’m trying to be more direct to the baseball to do more damage with it.”
There is still a showman inside Tebow. He hit a home run in his first at-bat as a professional with Class A Columbia last year, then homered in his second game with Class A St. Lucie. And then on April 5, he hit a three-run homer on the first pitch he saw in Double-A.
“I don’t know, it’s pretty special,” Tebow said after that game. “But baseball’s a game where it’s never too high and never too low. It’s just one at-bat and just one pitch, so you have to be focused.”
During Spring Training, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, who stepped down this week due a recurrence of cancer, was very pointed when asked about Tebow’s profile as a potential Major League player.
“I think he will play in the Major Leagues,” said Alderson. “That’s my guess, that’s my hope and to some extent now after a year and a half, a modest expectation. So I’m happy he’s here. He’s great for the team, he’s great for baseball. He was phenomenal for Minor League Baseball last year.
“We’re very pleased with his progress so far. I think that this experiment on his part has evolved from when it first started and we signed him into something I think much more meaningful and with somewhat greater expectations. He’s been super for us the first year-plus. He made progress on the field, he’s dedicated himself to improvement, he spent a lot of time in the offseason, working with hitting coaches and so forth, a lot of time.”
Which brings us back to the original point: It doesn’t really matter that Tebow plays for the Mets, sinking fast in the NL East. He could be playing for Baltimore, Kansas City, the White Sox or Miami, too.
How might these teams keep interest at a peak in September while playing out the string and mired deep in the basement?
Call up Tebow, that’s how.
If you think he doesn’t translate into box office revenue, you weren’t paying attention last year when he spun turnstiles at a record-setting pace. He helped both Columbia and St. Lucie set attendance records, upping Columbia’s numbers by 21 percent, giving St. Lucie a 37 percent boost.
Baseball America did the math after the season was over. Tebow was worth nearly $1.6 million in additional ticket, parking, and concession sales.
However, his lure hasn’t been that strong in Binghamton, an industrial town in upstate New York that was burdened by bad weather this spring. The Rumble Ponies have averaged 3,094 in 34 dates, 10th the EL’s 12 teams. Binghamton averaged 3,289 last season.
But the Mets, only 14-26 at Citi Field this season, have 13 home games in September. Tebow batting seventh? Makes sense to us.