For 22 seasons, he was among the game’s most feared hitters. He hit 509 homers, walked more than he struck out in 16 seasons and finished with a .292 batting average and .907 OPS. Surely, with his knowledge and experience, Sheffield would scoff at the notion of a failed NFL quarterback becoming a professional baseball player at 29, more than a decade after he last played the game in high school.
Yet here he sits, in an air-conditioned suite overlooking the Rogers Centre playing field on a sticky Friday night, insisting that Tebow is the legitimate article.
“He’s going to sign with a major-league team,” Sheffield says, “because once they see him, I’ll guarantee you somebody’s going to sign him.”
Partly because he’s Tim Tebow. But also because he will hit, Sheffield declares.
In one breath, he is pumping Tebow’s tires like a used-car salesman on commission. In the next, he sounds properly dubious.
“I was skeptical,” he says, until he saw Tebow’s powerful swing and bat speed. One swing convinced him. That, and the sound of the ball off Tebow’s bat.
In an indoor batting cage, with a machine throwing the pitches.
Sheffield is a player agent; he represents Blue Jays’ reliever Jason Grilli. Perhaps he believes he can eventually profit from representing Tebow too.
“We haven’t talked about that,” Sheffield says. “I think he’s represented by somebody else, so that’s never been brought up.”
Sheffield knows, of course, that Tebow’s agent is Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA Baseball, who announced this week that his client plans to stage a tryout for any big-league club willing to take a look.
I asked a Blue Jays official whether he knew about the tryout. The team had not received a notification, he said.
Would the Jays be interested in checking on Tebow? We’d probably take a pass, he said.
Sheffield says Tebow called him Friday and asked him to serve as his coach. That’s intriguing, since Tebow has been working out at an Arizona academy with another coach, former major-league catcher Chad Moeller.
I ask Sheffield whether Tebow has a clue how hard it will be to evolve from a power hitter against a pitching machine to an honest-to-goodness major leaguer.
“That’s the question,” Sheffield replies. “I know how persistent he is, I know how determined he is and I know how focused he is. And he thinks he can conquer anything. I don’t think he’s ever been up for a challenge until he’s seen baseball.
“He thinks football is a challenge until you get out here (on a baseball field). You’re on your own. ‘Nobody’s blocking for me.’ This is not, ‘if I throw the ball, somebody’s catches it and my job is over.’ Everything you do with this bat in your hand, you’re on your own. That’s what he’s got to face.”
But with Sheffield’s coaching (and who knows, maybe Moeller’s too), the 245-pound ex-quarterback will indeed play for a big-league team, Sheffield declares.
“I’m not saying he’s going to be great,” he says. “I’m saying he’s going to be a ballplayer that can play on this level.”
If Tebow works with me for six months, Sheffield says, he’ll be ready to face minor-league pitching.
“It’s going to take six months just to talk about baseball and for him to understand hitting, and then for him to face college kids and then pickup games, and then you can face minor-league pro players. That’s how you build your way up. If he goes any faster than that, then I don’t see this working. But if he takes his time and be patient, I see it happening.”
He projects Tebow as a first baseman-outfielder, “a gap-to-gap guy with power.” Tebow is big and muscular, but remarkably flexible, he says. It’s right there in the video, he says.
Tebow in the cage. Judge for yourself. You tell me if that swing gets past AA. pic.twitter.com/7Ij0pfK5cv
— BEAU BISHOP (@BeauBishop) August 9, 2016
Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner who wore his Christian values on his eye black in college before the Denver Broncos made him their first-round pick in 2010. He lasted three shaky seasons in the NFL, then joined ESPN as a college football commentator. It has been a while since he worked as an athlete.
Sheffield admits that Tebow’s fame – from his celebrated college days and his fleeting period of NFL success in Denver – will make him a story again and may earn some initial interest from MLB scouts.
Two-sport stars are rare enough. Tebow is not a prototypical two-sport athlete.
“This is not a Brian Jordan or Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders, this is a Michael Jordan situation,” Sheffield says. “He’s going to get a job because he’s Tim Tebow, just like Michael Jordan got a job because he was Michael Jordan.”
Between retirements from the NBA, Jordan played one season for the White Sox’ Double-A team in Birmingham. He batted .202 and bought his team a sweet 45-foot bus.
“You can’t tell me with that swing that Michael Jordan showed that he should’ve been in the big leagues,” Sheffield says. “It was because he was Michael Jordan. And the same thing’s going to happen with Tebow. But if you look at Tebow’s swing, it’s a better swing, a more powerful swing. So it’s just a matter of giving it time, making sure he’s patient, and it’s going to happen.”
Sheffield says he has known Tebow for several years. They’d had a few conversations about Tebow playing baseball. If and when you’re serious about that, Sheffield said, call me.
But make sure you’re serious about it.
“Anytime a guy talks about playing baseball and he hadn’t played it since high school and it’s been so many years that passed, it’s almost like an insult to a baseball player,” Sheffield says. “It’s really like (he’s saying) our job is not that hard. I wanted to let him know that what we do is serious.
“And then he did it in a respectful way. He was letting me know, ‘Gary, I’m not trying to insult you. This is something I want to fulfill my dream. If I’m not allowed to play football, my second passion is baseball, and I feel like I can do it. So I gave him the opportunity to show me what he’s got, and on the first swing I was convinced.”
It all makes for a good story – against all odds, the former quarterback decides to pick up a bat, gets a contract, rides the minor-league buses for a few years and somehow makes it to the big leagues in his 30s. It’s also story with a predictable ending, unless Gary Sheffield really did see and hear what he thinks he saw and heard when Tebow whacked one pitch in an indoor batting cage.
In which case, there might be a miracle in store, with money to be made for Tim Tebow and for Gary Sheffield.