There’s something about a minor league rehab assignment that creates extra excitement around any MiLB ballpark. Most days, some teams may fudge the numbers a little to show they had higher attendance. Others regularly enjoy a strong turnout, especially on nights with popular promotions. But when a major league player comes to town on his road to recovery from injury, even more fans come out. It’s a smaller setting, more intimate, and, of course, easier on the wallet.
There’s something different going on in the Mets organization, a new way to draw ‘em in this season, and his name (have you heard?) is Tim Tebow.
What do we make of all this? Well, many hate the whole damn thing. Many players, particularly minor leaguers, have voiced their displeasure, not so much at his pursuit of a dream, but how it trickles down to impact MiLB players trying so hard for a shot. At 29, Tebow, a former football star, is somehow in the same boat with them. Seems unbalanced, sure; who can blame their frustration and distrust of the entire “experiment?” Fans have also voiced their displeasure. Traditionalists who love the game find it ridiculous, those who cover the game, some who are fans with independent blogs, have been passionately pissed off about Tebow getting through the door, in what they see as unfair advantage because the Mets see an opportunity to make money. Don’t fault the Mets minor league affiliates for kicking up their heels on this one, because this is where they make their money. They need moments like this, and they don’t come around that often.
But to the players who may hate this, who are quietly stewing or have been very vocal, and to those being supportive of Tebow’s dream, a moment has arrived for you too.
When Tebow makes his debut with the Low-A Columbia Fireflies, there will be players who’ve come off their first professional season; some ranked higher in the system, others will be fighting to stay healthy and in the mix, so as not to be forgotten after the next draft. They’re all scraping and scrapping though. They know there are no guarantees. The truth of it is, there’s no guarantee for Tebow either. His success isn’t a guaranteed gimmick, even if his being in baseball works as one for the Mets. He too will be working to get an opportunity.
The difference, of course, is that Tebow will be soaking up the spotlight in a way a low-level, barely known prospect can’t. He’ll bring big media to the ballpark and the headlines will go to him, more often than not. But, boys, those cameras aren’t allergic to you. And when the story is written, your name in the Tebow story takes on new meaning.
If you’re the guy that hits behind or ahead of him, you’re in the story. If you do something big while he’s on base, you’re in there. If you’re pitching to him, and you kick his famous butt out of that batter’s box, and bonus if you do it big, you’ll hear your name. If you make a play that puts him out, maybe even a spectacular play, you get more attention. You’ll get a little more of the spotlight than you would have at the lowest levels of the bus leagues.
This may be cold comfort. Many minor league players are still barely getting by and that counts for a lot. Plenty of players have quit early on in their careers because they just couldn’t see living that way too many more years. Tebow won’t have those concerns. He has built-in perks. But his fame is to the advantage of many in the minor leagues, and most definitely that includes players.
So to minor leaguers, take full advantage of his advantage. When you step into the batter’s box or on the mound or take your position, play it for all it’s worth; smile. You’re on Tebow camera.