What if a 29-year-old former quarterback was good enough to play pro baseball, too? What if we all tried the things that people told us we could not do? Inside the final comeback of a born-again star.
Before he said yes to training Tim Tebow over the summer, former major league catcher Chad Moeller met with the recovering quarterback at his private baseball training facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, and had a couple of things on his mind. “I wanted to find out his motives,” Moeller says, “if I was wasting my time and why we were doing this.”
When Moeller asked Tebow to explain, he said “that this was a true passion, and one of the biggest question marks in his life was whether he made the right decision to go to football. He still says it’s the hardest decision he ever made and that he’s still not certain if it was the right one.”
All of this has been about that question: What if?
✦ ✦ ✦
On a baseball field in Los Angeles on a warm afternoon early last fall, Tebow was frustrated, so he found himself launching baseballs and searching for some peace in the comforting rhythm of his long and violent swing.
He was a long way from his Heisman Trophy and two national championships at the University of Florida, where he became one of the greatest college quarterbacks ever, and his brief but sensational playoff run for the 2011 Denver Broncos. The Broncos had traded him to the New York Jets, where he barely played, then the Jets cut him, then the New England Patriots picked him up, only to cut him too, in August 2013.
At that point, Tebow went to California to train with Tom House, a quarterback coach operating out of the University of Southern California. Tom Brady had told Tebow about him. A former big league pitcher, House became a quarterback coach by accident, garnering attention after helping Drew Brees rehab from a shoulder injury a decade ago.
Tebow trained four to five days a week with House and his business partner, Adam Dedeaux, a former minor league pitcher just a year older than Tebow, who is still only 29. They shored up his release, tightened his spiral, quickened his mind. But in Tebow’s next, and likely last, chance, the Philadelphia Eagles signed him in the spring of 2015, only to dump him after playing in all four preseason games that September.
Tebow kept working with House and Dedeaux through the fall, staying sharp, but he was also getting a little antsy. “Like, ‘Hey, can we get some guys out here?’” Dedeaux says. “‘Can we get a game of touch football going? Can we just get the competitive juices going?’ … He went from being nothing but successful and being able to compete and do the things he loves to having it all taken away from him pretty quickly.”
With nobody asking him to play quarterback and with no desire to learn another position, Tebow kept thinking more and more about baseball. This was in no small part because, while he was working out with Dedeaux and House, they frequently trained in the outfield grass where the USC Trojans play baseball.
When the team practiced, Tebow would stand at the fence and watch with Dedeaux, the two talking the way most former ballplayers talk. I could hit that guy. I could make that catch.
In time, just for fun, Tebow started taking a few hacks during Trojans batting practice, then asked Dedeaux to start throwing him some of his own batting practice, too. One day, House just sat and watched, hypnotized as Tebow hit ball after ball well beyond the fence and out into the parking lot. House counted 15 home runs.
Tebow started pushing Dedeaux to mix in some breaking stuff, make it a little harder to hit. Then he pushed harder and harder, until they were squaring off, Dedeaux going into a full windup and everything, each aging athlete trying to see what the other had left.
In those moments, Tebow wasn’t thinking about book deals or endorsements or all the attention that would come if he really gave baseball a try. No, he was thinking, What if? He was thinking about swinging a big bat and making contact with a small, round ball, and how good it felt, like when he was young, and his world was simple and life was quiet.