Stunt? Even with jerseys and books to sell, Tebow says no
Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo Tim Tebow signs autographs for fans at the New York Mets' complex Monday in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Mets fans can buy a few jerseys featuring names of players in the team's instructional league.
Cespedes jerseys, they're big sellers.
Cone jerseys, available as throwbacks.
Of course, those are for Yoenis Cespedes and David Cone, and not the instructional leaguers — Ricardo Cespedes and Gene Cone. No, the only of the 58 players getting a spotlight in this camp with the Mets is Tim Tebow, the quarterback-turned-baseball hopeful whose No. 15 jersey is already a hot seller even though he has yet to take one professional at-bat.
The Mets are cashing in already, and Tebow has a book coming out next month. Yet both the team and its new star of sorts insist this is no publicity stunt, even though the odds seem stacked very high against a 29-year-old former football player finding his way to the major leagues. And it's certainly worth noting that the revenue from any Tebow apparel bought off the Mets' site gets shared with other big-league clubs.
"The good thing is that I don't have to say anything," Tebow said when asked what he would say to those who think it is a stunt. "I don't."
Day 2 of the Tebow experiment with the Mets arrived Tuesday, when he returned to the minor league complex in Port St. Lucie for more running, throwing, catching and hitting. The media contingent chronicling his every move was much smaller Tuesday, and there were fewer fans as well. One man left shortly after the gates opened for Tuesday's workout, saying he went only to get a picture for his grandson.
For their part, the Mets players seem fine with the baseball version of Tebowmania. A few even asked Tebow for advice on who'll win college football games this weekend.
"I think it's cool," said Mets left-hander Steven Matz, who was working out on an adjacent field Tuesday and will be back in New York this week. "He's a hard worker. He's just another player and you can tell that's all he wants to be. He's just here to work hard and see if he can make the big leagues."
That's why Tebow says he's here.
Tebow is taking the workouts seriously. He's acknowledged that he still has a lot to learn — even with regard to what equipment he needs to take to the field for practice — and said he was hoping teammates would be comfortable having him around.
To him, this is just playing the game he loved as a kid. Except back then, money wasn't an issue. It is this time, as is almost always the case in pro sports.
Tebow signed a deal with the Mets that included a $100,000 signing bonus. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson defended it earlier this month, saying before a game in Atlanta the team wouldn't spend that kind of money "so we can sell a couple hundred dollars' worth of T-shirts in Kingsport," referring to the Tennessee city where New York has a rookie league team.
But merchandise isn't just on sale in Kingsport — it's everywhere. The Mets' web site listed the $119.99 jerseys and $29.99 T-shirts as top sellers Monday, and some fans who didn't want to wait for shipping were lined up at the team's complex on Florida's Treasure Coast to buy Tebow apparel.
"I heard that was something that they might be selling. What do I think about it? It's cool," Tebow said.
Tebow has a book coming out next month called "Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life's Storms." He wouldn't seem to need baseball as a platform to promote the book; he's an analyst for the SEC Network and his fans are devout, whether he's on TV or not.
But he did spend time after his first Mets workout answering questions about the book, talking about how his playing days under Bill Belichick for the New England Patriots ended in 2013.
"The whole first chapter is about the last two days with the New England Patriots and getting cut from them and what it's like and that meeting, walking into coach Belichick's office and being told that you're not enough," Tebow said. "And so the goal with this and why it's title is 'Shaken' is every single person in this room and every single person probably in life goes through times when they get told they're not enough."
For Tebow, having a chance to play is enough.
He looks at baseball as a way to tell his story a new way. A few weeks ago he was in his native Philippines, saying he hiked into remote areas and helped care for children who faced serious medical problems.
"I'm always grateful for that platform to make a change in someone's life," Tebow said. "Hopefully for the better."