Eddie Bane has never watched Tim Tebow play baseball.
Bane, the current scouting director for the Red Sox, once inquired about drafting Tebow while Tebow was still at Florida and Bane held the same title with the Angels. Until Monday, when Tebow announced his intention to pursue a career in Major League Baseball, it was the closest the soon-to-be 29-year-old — his birthday is Sunday — has ever come to playing the game professionally.
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"When we see a good athlete playing baseball, we jump on that," Bane said in a phone interview this week.
There is a storied history of quarterbacks moonlighting on the diamond and even the prospect of one switching over can be impetus for an organization to offer them a shot. Bane is no exception: He once drafted West Virginia signee Pat White and Washington signee Jake Locker in the span of three years.
At one time, there was good reason to at least consider the notion of Tebow joining those ranks. He was only a few years removed from playing baseball as a junior at Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where he helped elevate the Panthers from a 4-17 bottom feeder to a 23-7 state semifinalist. Tebow was a fixture in the middle of the order, hitting .494 with 30 RBI. When Nease was on the ropes in the district championship game against St. Augustine, he smacked a game-tying home run in the seventh inning ahead of the Panthers' eventual win. He was named to the All-State team and flashed what baseball guru Tom House notes today is "stupid power."
At one point, in other words, it was absolutely plausible for Tebow to become a Major League Baseball player, and so Bane decided it was worth the team's trouble to at least perform due diligence. "He was such a great athlete that we're always trying to think outside the box," Bane recalls. "There were a few other teams that were doing the same thing." He dispatched Tom Kotchman – "probably the best area scout I've ever been around," Bane says – to get Tebow's information.
"[Kotchman] could get any information, any time; he's that good a scout," Bane says. "But it was a challenge to try and get Tim Tebow's information because he wasn't forthcoming real fast… You can always get the information if you really bear down on it but usually they want you to get the information." Bane is quick to point out that there was nothing duplicitous at play. Tebow just had zero desire to entertain a baseball career, even down to being a novelty drat pick.
Today's change of heart will invite plenty of amateur prognosticating about how Tebow's football pedigree will help him transition, if at all. The intangibles remain and Bane is the first note to acknowledge that while attempting to make the major leagues now will be brutally difficult, "from what I understand about Tim Tebow's makeup, that's not going to deter him."
But Bane also believes that there's nothing to the idea that Tebow's NFL position gives him any distinct advantage on its own. "There are running backs I wish would play baseball," he says. "There are wide receivers I wish would play baseball. There are tight ends I wish would play baseball." Even the quarterbacks who play baseball don't necessarily translate as expected. As an example, Bane cites Mike Pagel, a two-sport athlete at ASU who played 12 years in the NFL.
"Mike couldn't run in football [but] in baseball, he was a pretty good runner," he says. "And he couldn't throw. Things don't always add up the way you think they will. Mike played left field and he had a below average arm."
Tebow's power seems like a safer bet, what with his fortress-like physique and batting practice displays that have already sold the likes of House and Gary Sheffield. Yet, Bane cautions, "the power, it may look good until somebody starts throwing 95 miles per hour and then a lot of the time the power goes."
It's possible that Tim Tebow has never experienced a pitcher throwing 95 miles per hour in a competitive game. If he has, it happened far too long ago to be of real use. He will fumble through a game he barely understands with the hopes of competing against athletes who have studied its nuances for their entire lives. He will do so against a media backdrop that is tut-tutting him for trying, and prepared to grandstand about the sport's honor when he fails. Buck Showalter is hardly the only figure within the game who will resent him for walking into opportunities that players who have toiled far longer will never earn.
There are a great many factors working against his success, then, but Tebow also has resources and more than a modicum of talent. Most of all, he will have an audience. Already, independent and major league-affiliated teams alike have unleashed their public thirst. It's good public relations fodder, naturally, but it reflects a very real curiosity within the game, irrespective of the eventual outcome.
"[Baseball] people will come out and watch," Bane says. "There will be scouts there. We've seen the buzz it created [already]. We'll go anywhere to find a good baseball player. If he can play, we'll be there. If he can't play? That's probably what you'd expect but he's done a lot of things in his life that have proved people wrong."