Tim Tebow’s HS baseball coach still has faith in his star

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With his football career seemingly in the rear view, Tim Tebow is reportedly turning his attention toward baseball. And while the likelihood that the former quarterback pans out as an outfielder at the age of 29 might appear low, the last person to coach Tebow on the diamond says he wouldn’t rule it out.

Greg “Boo” Mullins was the head coach at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., during Tebow’s sophomore and junior seasons, in 2004 and 2005. A former big leaguer, Mullins knows what it takes to get to the show, and said Tebow’s persistence, alone, will give him a decent chance.

“The work ethic that he has is what it’s going to take to get there,” Mullins told FOX Sports by phone from Florida on Tuesday. “And if anybody can get there, it’s going to be him.

“He just needs the reps and the timing, and he needs to see pitching, pitching, pitching,” added Mullins, a left-handed pitcher who appeared in two games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1998. “I’m not worried about him getting reps in at the cage, after practice, before practice, things like that — because he’s going to do that on his own.”

Nease went just 4-17 in 2004, Mullins’ first season after taking over the struggling Panthers program, but 2005 saw a massive turnaround, thanks in large part to Tebow, who hit .494 with four home runs and 30 RBIs.

“It took us a little while to get some things cleaned up on his swing, shortening him up,” Mullins said of Tebow’s improvement at the plate as a junior. “Of course, he was big and strong at that time, but everything was just muscle.

“Then as it became a little easier for him, when the small muscles started working instead of all the big ones, he turned into not only a very good hitter, but a very good power hitter,” Mullins continued. “I mean, I watched him hit balls 450 feet at 17 years old.”

With an improved Tebow raking in the three-hole or the cleanup spot, Nease improved to 24-7 and reached the semifinals of the Florida Class 4A tournament. There, Nease lost to eventual state runner-up Winter Haven, despite Tebow (2-for-3) registering as many hits as the entire Winter Haven team.

Earlier in the season, Tebow had also delivered a game-tying, seventh-inning home run in a 3-2 district championship win over St. Augustine, which qualified Nease for the state tournament.

“Having faced him, his power always kind of scared you, because if you didn’t hit a spot and he connected with it, it went a long ways,” said Corey Pye, a senior reliever on the ’05 Nease team, adding of the home run against St. Augustine, “I don’t even think that ball has landed yet.”

Then later, in a 6-1 state quarterfinal win over Titusville, Tebow made a diving catch in the outfield that Mullins said saved three runs.

“It was kind of like his football career,” Mullins said. “He made the big play or he got the big hit for me when it really mattered.”

In addition to his accomplishments in the outfield and at the dish, Tebow was also a part-time pitcher for the Panthers. Mullins said Tebow regularly hit 88 to 90 miles per hour on the radar gun and likely could have gotten his fastball up in the 92-to-94 range had he chosen to play the position full-time, a move Mullins declined to make out of concern for Tebow’s future on the gridiron.

“That year I had two guys that were just studs, and honestly, I didn’t want to be the guy that blew Tebow’s arm out,” Mullins said. “Because he and I had already talked, and he wanted to play football in college. Even at that age, he was man enough to say, ‘Coach, this is what I want to do.’”

Still, Mullins said he held out hope that Tebow would return for his senior season at Nease, but ultimately, Tebow decided to enroll early at the University of Florida, where he won a national championship during his freshman season.

“I remember Urban (Meyer) coming to baseball games and watching us play, and for me, doing what I did in my career, I would always sit and think, ‘This didn’t happen to me until I was 26, but this was happening to this kid when he’s 17,’” Mullins recalled. “And it was amazing how he handled a Division I football coach standing with his elbows on the fence, watching him take BP.”

Now the question is whether Tebow can bring back that old magic after more than 11 years away from the baseball field — and how long it might take him to find his stroke, if he can.

“I believe it’s going to be rough for him, but at the end of the day, there’s pitchers that have Tommy John that take two years off,” Mullins said. “There’s hitters that break an arm or break a leg or tear an ACL where it takes them a year and a half to come back. I get that it’s been 10 years, but I always believed, as I played and coached for all these years, that once you know how to hit, you know how to hit. Once you know how to throw strikes, you know how to throw strikes.

“What they can’t teach is velocity and bat speed, God-given ability, speed on your feet,” Mullins continued. “It’s things like that that are unteachable, but all the other intangibles are teachable, and his work ethic will make him as good as he can be.”

Whether that’s good enough to reach the majors, however, remains to be seen.

“I love Tim to death, but especially at his age, right now, he would have to progress very, very quickly,” said Pye, now an assistant coach at Tallahassee Community College. “For him to get to the big leagues — it would be a very slim chance, but with Tim, you never know.”

“I don’t want to say that he will because I know how hard it is to get there,” added Mullins. “But I do want to say that he’ll make it because I know Timmy. Tim, once he starts, and once it’s in his heart and in his head, I think the youngin’ can play any sport.”

You can follow Sam Gardner on Twitter or email him at samgardnerfox@gmail.com.