By Ernie Palladino
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As much fun as this has been, the time has come for the Mets to let Tim Tebow go over to the other side of their Port St. Lucie training facility and do his thing with the minor leaguers.
No more major league stuff. No more yo-yoing between major and minor. Those plans Terry Collins has to bring him back yet again to fill in for a roster depleted by temporary defections to the World Baseball Classic?
Throw them out.
It's the only fair thing to do. For Tebow's sake, end the mockery of placing a good but inexperienced 29-year-old in a major league lineup.
Not that this whole opportunity hasn't been a blast for the fans. Tebow has always been a guy to root for, whether playing quarterback in the NFL or left field in the Grapefruit League. He has always worked hard. Always conducted himself with a boyish enthusiasm balanced with a faith-based dignity. Now that he has decided to give baseball a whirl, he is busting his butt to learn how the pros play a game he hasn't seriously participated in since high school.
Imagine the elation he must have felt when Collins called him over last week for a couple of starts. It barely mattered that he went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts. Plenty of players -- prospects and mainstays alike -- start off their springs like that. And how exhilarating it must have been when the former Heisman Trophy winner's dribbler off the Marlins' Kyle Lobstein found a hole for his first hit Monday.
The crowd was appreciative, rising in a standing ovation. His big-league teammates seemed delighted as they celebrated in the dugout.
But in the end, there must certainly have been somebody in Triple-A more deserving of those at-bats than Tebow, who undoubtedly will continue his crash course at the bottom of the professional ladder come April. Anyone with a better shot at making the majors than the much-loved longshot.
It almost seems the Mets are using him as a publicity gimmick, the very thing Tebow should have feared from the beginning. He's too good a person to be put on display like that, especially after he'd just spent a winter in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .194 against minor league arms.
Collins would deny that. After Monday's game, he said he was simply trying to get Tebow experience against better competition so he can get off to a fast start against his minor league opponents.
In reality, it doesn't matter how much of Collins' generosity Tebow soaks up. He has so much to learn about strategy, about base running, about transferring the power he showed scouts at his personal tryout into game performance, that a few innings in a major league camp are like pebbles cast into the ocean.
They won't raise the waterline one bit.
At an age where most major leaguers are working under their second and third contracts, and where most prospects have been set free to start their next careers, Tebow is basically trying to do the impossible.
Given his work ethic and attitude, if anyone can do it, it's him.
But the Mets should let him do it amidst the competition he'll face once camp breaks. Better that than to put him up against big-league arms who will grind him into nothingness.
If they really want to be fair to Tebow, they'll send him over the fence and not call him back until he's ready, if that day ever comes at all.
The past few games have been fun. But now it's time for Tebow to go where he belongs.
Wish him luck. Pat him on the back.
Then, leave him alone to learn in peace and anonymity.
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