LOS ANGELES -- The high point of Tim Tebow's big audition came during batting practice, when he pulverized a fastball high and deep to right center field, through a grove of trees and off an adjacent building. An audible gasp or two could be heard from the third base dugout at Dedeaux Field. This was what the 46 scouts representing 28 major-league teams had come to see.
Tebow and his representatives wanted to make the showcase as authentic as possible, so they added a wrinkle for another round. David Aardsma and Chad Smith, two pitchers with major-league experience, threw a simulated game to Tebow, with balls and strikes, changeups and breaking balls mixed in with heaters, and an ever-present surprise element: One pitch after the next, Tebow had no idea what was coming.
Tebow's willingness to hang in the box and keep swinging away said a lot about the enthusiasm and seriousness he has for his quest. But on an oppressively hot, blazingly sunny Southern California day, his performance in the extra session sucked some of the air out of the workout. It also drummed home a lesson: He has a lot of ground to cover, in a brief window of time.
"The batting practice was impressive, and if he had carried it over into the simulated game, I think a lot of teams would have come away from this very interested," a veteran scout said. "But it just didn't translate. He was out front a lot and he didn't recognize some pitches. He didn't take the same approach. It seemed like he was more interested in making contact, and his barrel was dragging.
"I can still see a team being interested, but he has a long way to go."
Roy Hobbs in the novel "The Natural" was 34 when he reached the big leagues, but Tebow's non-fictional approach to reinventing himself doesn't afford him that big a window. He's 29 years old and hasn't played organized baseball since his junior year of high school in Florida. He needs to absorb a lot of subtleties that he missed while focusing exclusively on football for a decade.
Tuesday's showcase was Tebow's coming-out party after three months of working out with former big-league catcher Chad Moeller in Scottsdale, Arizona. Tebow showed up on the main field at 11 a.m., wearing a black Lycra shirt that accentuated his muscles, along with orange socks and an orange compression sleeve on his right arm.
"You look good, you feel good," Tebow said. "You feel good, you play good."
Tebow stuck to a tightly-scripted menu of activities. First he ran a 60-yard dash that scouts timed at 6.6 to 6.8 seconds -- a better than average grade on the 20-80 player evaluation scale. The next round of activities, shagging balls in the outfield and making throws, didn't go as well. Tebow looked mechanical at times, had a misstep or two with his footwork, and showed a throwing arm that one scout gave a 40 grade.
Two things everyone agreed on: 1) Tebow is a gifted athlete; and 2) he's a world-class competitor. Moeller, his mentor, half-jokingly says that it's hard to wrestle the bat out of Tebow's hands because of the pronounced size difference between them. When Tebow refused to say "uncle" amid temperatures in the high 80s, Moeller finally had to walk onto the field and obstruct his view for the workout to end within two hours.
"I thought Tim threw the ball well,'' Moeller said, "and he obviously ran well. He's a special athlete. As hitters, do we always think we can do something a little better? Sure. But I liked what I saw. He showed he can obviously hit a baseball a long way. He has great opposite-field power, and I thought the live at-bats went well. There's no question David Aardsma was out here today looking to find a job for next year. That makes it more real.''
When asked to cite major-league comparables for Tebow, scouts strained for names. Tebow stands 6-foot-3, weighs 255 pounds and has 7.3 percent body fat. Even perennial MVP Mike Trout doesn't have that kind of physical presence.
"How about a poor man's Kirk Gibson?" a scout said. "He's just a big, strong football player who plays the game hard.''
Another scout mentioned Ryan Klesko and Laynce Nix, muscular lefty sluggers who had a lot of power and some significant swing-and-miss in their portfolios. A third scout, while stumped for comps, made it clear that Tebow definitely has the raw materials.
"As an open-field runner, he's what you're looking for," the scout said. "And his raw power is an (80). The biggest questions are, what level does he compete at early, and how long is he willing to give it? He's got every tool you're looking for. But how does he make the adjustments as a hitter?''
So what comes next? After Tuesday's workout, five or six teams met with Tebow privately, which was a positive sign. Brodie Van Wagenen, Tebow's representative at CAA, said the ideal scenario would be for a team to sign Tebow and get him in uniform by the instructional league in late September. The development plan might include a stint in the Arizona Fall League or in winter ball, possibly in Latin America.
"There's been a lot of skepticism and a lot of criticism, and naturally everybody comes with a little bit of hesitation when they get to see what this euphoria is all about," Van Wagenen said. "I think teams have been very pleasantly surprised with Tim's talent and his commitment. They're viewing this with a whole new appreciation of him as a baseball player -- not just a celebrity or a needle mover."
As scores of teammates and others can attest, no one states the case for Tebow better than Tebow himself. During a 15-minute give-and-take with reporters after his workout, Tebow spoke with fervor, humor and not a shred of doubt that he will do everything in his power to become a baseball player. He's willing to handle the drudgery and make whatever sacrifices are necessary.
"This is something I love and I'm passionate about it, but it's not my identity," Tebow said. "It's not my foundation. I have that in so many bigger things -- my faith, my family and all my relationships. When you have that mindset, it lets you be free to go out there and compete. You don't have the fear of failure and what other people say about you. You can just go out there and go after what you believe."
Long story short: A rough batting practice session here or a few hiccups there aren't going to dissuade Tebow from the task at hand. He has made up his mind that he's going to play baseball, and he'll keep trying until everyone tells him no.