Tim Tebow wants to try baseball?

Tuesday’s announcement took me back, all the way back to Wilmington, N.C., all the way back to October 1993.

That’s when Michael Jordan announced he was leaving basketball for his first love, baseball. Jordan, of course, was from Wilmington, where I went to college and worked. We knew him as Mike. In that next morning’s paper, I wrote it would never work, that Mike would never hit .200 in Double A.

He hit .202, but it was the most impressive .202 I’ve ever seen.

I covered probably a dozen of Jordan’s games that summer with the Birmingham Barons. I saw him in Zebulon, N.C., Orlando, Jacksonville, Fla. I saw the fielding flaws, the curious, untrained routes to fly balls and the late, weak swings and misses, but I also saw something else.

I saw the sweat.


Baseball men have a pet expression when praising a player’s work ethic — they’ll say they like the way he goes about it.

Jordan went about it. And he went after it.

Extra batting practice. Extra outfield practice. He worked as hard as any minor league player I’ve seen, and when you spend close to three years at Baseball America, you see hundreds chasing millions, though not all with the same fervor.

Nobody matched Jordan’s fervor.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Jordan couldn’t beat out enough ground balls to beat the odds. Baseball won — it almost always does — but Jordan didn’t lose.

He didn’t cheat the game. He certainly didn’t cheat himself. And despite critics crying otherwise, he didn’t cheat another deserving prospect out of a spot in the Barons’ outfield.

Jordan showed us all that summer — record crowds, by the way — what hard work was all about.

Who better, then, than Tebow to step into the cage?

Will he make it? No. But that’s hardly a shame or reason not to try. Baseball America determined that 83 percent of all drafted players never make it to the major leagues. Plenty of first-rounders fail.

Clearly, the odds are stacked against Tebow, who hasn’t swung a bat competitively since high school.

But … I like the way he goes about it, and that alone will give him a chance to win you over as well.

As much as scouts covet tools, mind-set and intangibles matter just as much. Jordan simply didn’t have a baseball body, and the long summer grind wore him out.

Tebow looks like a bigger, left-handed Mike Trout. He won’t hit like him, of course, but from a sheer physical standpoint, he’s light years ahead of where Jordan started. He’s younger, too, and clearly not the first SEC football star to swap one helmet for another.

I watched two videos of Tebow’s swing. It’s long. Way too long. But it’s also violent, far more violent than the kindling Jordan brought to Birmingham.

Nobody could teach Tebow to shorten his throwing motion. Maybe they won’t be able to teach him to shorten his baseball swing either.

But you can’t teach bat speed. And he has that.

Maybe that’s why Gary Sheffield, who knows a thing or almost 3,000 about bat speed, seemed encouraged.

There’s something else you should know about baseball, the draft and those almighty Top 10 prospect rankings. They don’t find everybody, not even a Hall of Famer like Mike Piazza. Jose Altuve was overlooked at every step — and not simply because he’s just 5-6.

Work ethic matters in this game. It’s why Yasiel Puig is back in the minors, instead of hitting third in Chavez Ravine. It’s why Altuve might win the A.L. MVP award this season.

No sport rewards grinders more than baseball. No sport loves its dirt dogs more.

Tebow is the ultimate dirt dog. He would have fit right in with Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek and the rest of the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who shocked the baseball world.

Will Tebow shock us again? History screams no. But nobody saw Jim Morris leaving his high school teaching job in Texas and making it to the major leagues at age 35, either. That stuff only happens in the movies, right?

If you don’t have dreams, you don’t have anything.

Whatever happens, those of us fortunate enough to watch Tebow try will come away inspired by the effort.

Tebow won’t reach the major leagues. But nobody’s going to want it more.

Chris Wright is Executive Editor at Saturday Down South. Email him at cwright@saturdaydownsouth.com.