Tim Tebow is beginning his professional baseball career at 29 years old, so the New York Mets can exercise only so much patience in seeing what they have. It's a baseball judgment they claim they'll make internally, with no preconceived notions and minimal regard for public perception.
"I think this will run its natural course,'' general manager Sandy Alderson said on a conference call Thursday. "We're mindful of the fact that Tim is starting this endeavor at age 29, and there's a certain amount of realism we have to accept. But we're not really thinking about that. We're thinking about the beginning of journey and not the end.'' So here's where Tebow's baseball journey begins, with an understanding that no one really knows where it might lead:
• Sept. 18: Tebow will report to the Mets' instructional league team in Port St. Lucie, Forida, where he'll take part in three weeks of baseball activities with much younger prospects who are also in the incipient phase of professional ball.
• Fall 2016: After that, the Mets have several options available. They can send Tebow to the Arizona Fall League, where Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and so many other elite prospects have played over the years. They can continue his development with a winter league team in Latin America, or keep him in Port St. Lucie in a more structured environment with an emphasis on individual instruction.
• February 2017: Tebow will head to spring training, but the Mets have made no commitments to invite him to big-league camp.
• April 2017: The big step will come when Tebow joins a minor-league affiliate and rides the buses, faces changeups and curveballs, and gets his first taste of handling the failure that scouts predict will be the ultimate test for him.
Given the novel nature of Tebow's pursuit, the Mets are making up the rules on the fly.
There is no instruction manual on how to best slot an almost-30 Heisman Trophy owner into your minor league depth chart, so they'll have to determine how aggressively they want to push him through their system.
They could start him off at, say, Columbia of the low-A South Atlantic League to help him acclimate to the daily grind and gain confidence. If they go this route and Tebow hits .120 in Class A ball, he might be out of baseball by next summer.
Given his age, they could also opt to throw him into the deep end of the pool against better competition and let him fend for himself. If the Mets send him to Double A and he holds his own in the upper levels of the minors, the idea of Tim Tebow one day putting on a major league uniform might no longer be just a fantasy.
It's too early for the Mets to make that determination, but Alderson said the organization will try to strike a balance between giving Tebow a chance to succeed while simultaneously challenging him to get better - and given the urgency to set this path in motion, these conversations will have to start soon.
"There's going to be a little bit of rust,'' Alderson said. "There's going to be a need for instruction and development. I understand this isn't a typical 'one-off' where we evaluate the tools and make a judgment. We understand that he hasn't been around the game for a while. We understand that he's 29 years old. And we understand that he's a tremendous competitor and will be a role model for the players in our system."
Tebow encountered some questions about his commitment level Thursday when Alderson revealed that he will be leaving the instructional league for "a couple of days'' each week to continue his work as an SEC Network football analyst for ESPN. Tebow confronted the issue head on during the conference call.
"It's something I've committed to do,'' Tebow said. "For me, when I commit to do something, it's my word. It's more than a contract, because it's my integrity and it's who I am.
"During the week, I'll be training as hard as I can. Like Mr. Alderson said, you've got to take a break every now and then. One day a week will give me a chance to rest up and get back at it the next day. I don't really view it as not taking this seriously. Then again, I don't have to listen to listen to what everybody else says. I just get to go and do what I said I was going to do. I'm going to pursue this with everything I have.''