After the New York Mets’ spring training game Tuesday afternoon, outfielder Tim Tebow was summoned into Mickey Callaway’s office.
Tebow, 30, won the 2007 Heisman Trophy as the University of Florida’s quarterback, but he returned to baseball in 2016 after not playing since high school. He had a taste of major league spring training games last year, and his improvement last year earned him an invitation to major league camp this year. With a swing he changed in the offseason, he still notched just one hit in 18 at-bats this spring. He was also bothered by an ankle sprain he suffered in late February when he tripped on a sprinkler head in the outfield at the Mets’ spring training complex.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to with my ankle, which is kind of disappointing,” he said. “But I got to put in a lot of good work and I feel like I’m improving.”
Tebow played in seven spring games, but all as a designated hitter and saw no time in the field. Even then, Tebow said the injured ankle, which was still being treated, affected his normal hitting practice.
Regardless, he said this year’s spring training was different because of the opportunity to be around and learn from the Mets’ major league players and coaches.
Earlier in spring training, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson praised Tebow’s work ethic, power, and his positive influence on teammates and minor league baseball as a whole. Alderson even admitted that the Tebow experiment had changed.
“I expect Tim Tebow will play in the major leagues one day,” Alderson said in mid-February.
In his first full season in the Mets’ minor leagues last year, Tebow hit .226 with eight home runs, 52 RBI and 126 strikeouts in 126 games. He improved as the season progressed and was promoted to Class A-Advanced St. Lucie.
Tebow said Mets officials encouraged him to keep working on his weaknesses. Reaching the major leagues is still his goal.
“Just keep putting in work every day and hopefully you get the opportunity,” he said.
Earlier in the afternoon, Callaway made another announcement that had appeared inevitable for weeks. For the second consecutive season, Noah Syndergaard will start opening day for the Mets, on March 29 against the St. Louis Cardinals in New York.
Jacob deGrom will start the second game of the season on March 31 despite having earned the chance to start the opener because he was the Mets’ best and healthiest starter last season.
A minor bout of back stiffness in late February slowed deGrom, and he made his first start of spring training on Sunday while his fellow starters had already made at least three.
“It just didn’t make sense for us to push it to get him ready for opening day,” Callaway said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.