-- LOS ANGELES -- Tim Tebow began indulging his baseball fantasy as a do-it-yourselfer. For the better part of a year, between his TV work for ESPN and a short-lived comeback attempt with the Philadelphia Eagles, Tebow puttered around on the side with the vague notion that a former Heisman Trophy winner might be able to reinvent himself as a professional outfielder at age 29.
When the thoughts in his head morphed into something closer to an obsession, it was time to seek professional help.
On Memorial Day weekend, former big league catcher Chad Moeller received a call from CAA agent Brodie Van Wagenen with a proposition: Tebow was serious about playing baseball and needed help putting his dream in motion. Moeller was skeptical. But when he met Tebow at the Chad Moeller Baseball school in Scottsdale, Arizona, he saw the potential in Tebow's swing and heard the passion in his voice, so he shed his reservations and joined the cause.
Twice a week, Moeller would unlock the doors to his facility at 9 a.m. and secretly put Tebow through the paces several hours before school let out and all those teenagers showed up to hit at 2 or 3 p.m. The frequency of the meetings gradually increased, until Moeller spent about 80 hours working one-on-one with Tebow on hitting, fielding and talking the nuances of baseball.
Over the past three months, Moeller has seen enough commitment from Tebow to know this isn't a lark or a vanity project. The former football star turned him from a skeptic into a believer, one callus at a time.
"You're around him, and it's infectious,'' Moeller said. "He's upbeat 100 percent of the time. I mean, I have to take the bat away from him because he doesn't want to stop. His hands might be bleeding and he's like, 'No, we're not done yet.' And I'm like, 'Yes, we're done. This isn't football. More isn't always better.'"
Sometime Tuesday afternoon, Pacific time, Moeller and Tebow will discover if major league scouts share in their enthusiasm.
As Tebow has been preparing to hold a two-hour tryout for 20-plus teams in Los Angeles, the pro and con camps have begun to form.
Some veteran talent evaluators -- people with real baseball chops -- take Tebow's quest seriously and are rooting for him to succeed. They talk about his competitive nature and the dangers of shortchanging a dedicated athlete who pours his entire being into proving something.
"Personally, I think it's awesome that he wants to try baseball,'' said Boston Red Sox scout Eddie Bane, the man who chose Mike Trout with the 25th pick in the draft as Los Angeles Angels scouting director in 2009. "We can use all the great athletes, leaders and super personalities we can get in this game. I say, let him take a shot and we can look at it down the road and see what kind of progress he has made.''
An alternate, more cynical segment of the baseball fraternity is amused, bemused or offended by the idea that a big-name personality can waltz in and get a tryout in front of 20-plus scouts when his signature achievement was hitting .494 for the 2005 Nease High School Panthers in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones poked fun at Tebow's big baseball adventure on Twitter, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter made it clear he's not a fan of the idea.?
Skeptics strain for comparisons on what a colossal waste of time this is. While conceding that Tebow is "probably better than Garth Brooks'' (who attended the San Diego Padres' 1999 spring training camp), an American League scout thinks a 63-year-old former professional wrestler is a more fitting comparison.
"I know we just contacted Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat to see if he was interested in trying out for one of our clubs next spring after we found out he OPS'd .975 in middle school gym class,'' the scout said. "And I'm working out for the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.''
Moeller understands that Tebow's audition is widely perceived as a publicity stunt that's likely to die a quick death or end with a few token appearances to help sell tickets in the minor leagues or independent ball. Tebow has always been a polarizing figure. It's only fitting that of the numerous interview requests that Moeller has received, one came from the celebrity muckraking site TMZ. (He took a pass.)
"People love to throw darts at him, that's for sure,'' Moeller said. "People complain about him more than Ray Rice. I say that jokingly, but I'm like, 'Really? This guy is helping starving kids in the Philippines. And this is the guy we're going to throw darts at?'"
The great unknown
Tebow will audition for teams in a format similar to the workouts that Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and other Cuban players have held for teams before signing professional contracts.
He'll begin with a 60-yard dash then show his arm before shagging fly balls from a fungo bat and throwing to bases from the outfield. Then he'll take batting practice in a cage before graduating to "live BP'' against professional-level pitching. The fastballs will be 90 mph-plus, and Tebow will face an assortment of breaking balls and changeups with no warning of what's coming.
It won't require a major financial commitment for a team to sign Tebow. He's classified as a 2016 post-draft free agent, and because most teams already have spent most of their draft bonus pools, they're limited to the $100,000 that MLB grants teams for selections after the 10th round. If a team has the latitude to stretch to $200,000 or $300,000, it might be the winner.
If Tebow signs, the next step could be sending him to the instructional league with a bunch of kids 10 years younger. If he shows some promise there, a stint in the Arizona Fall League could come next.
There's an air of mystery surrounding Tebow's tryout. The MLB Scouting Bureau has no report of Tebow on file, a spokesman told ESPN.com. Tebow enrolled at Florida in January 2006, so he didn't play baseball as a high school senior. And unlike John Elway, Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, Archie Manning and so many others, he did not attempt the challenging double of playing quarterback in the fall and baseball during the spring in college.
Scouts who watched Tebow at Nease High in 2005 share their recollections through a time-induced haze. Tampa Bay Rays special assistant Bobby Heck was working as an East Coast supervisor for the Milwaukee Brewers when he scouted Tebow in suburban Jacksonville.
"I saw enough to know he was a 'follow' of some sort for the next year just due to his size, strength and athleticism,'' Heck said in a text message. "He looked like a football player trying to play baseball, but he would have been scouted like a real prospect as a senior if he had played and not enrolled early at Florida.''
Cincinnati Reds scouting director Chris Buckley caught a similar glimpse of Tebow 11 years ago while working for the Toronto Blue Jays. Buckley continued to follow Tebow on the football field, and he saw enough to suggest that some of Tebow's skills were readily transferrable to baseball.
"A lot of people didn't think he would be a quarterback in the NFL, but he's worked really hard on his arm,'' Buckley said. "I'm sure he's thrown a ton over the last 10 years. And he's a good athlete. He was running away from guys in the Southeastern Conference, so I would imagine he could play left field.''
The most glowing endorsement of Tebow comes from a man with a close personal connection. Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer watched Tebow play two sports at Nease High during recruiting trips before Tebow went to Gainesville and helped Meyer win two national titles for the Gators.
"Incredible baseball player,'' Meyer told ESPN.com's Austin Ward. "I drank the Kool-Aid when I watched, because I kept hearing Tebow, Tebow, Tebow. You got a little tired of it. I went and watched him play in spring baseball. He's playing the outfield. I've never seen a guy change a game, motivate, lead and do everything. I walked away and said, 'That guy is one of the most unique players I've ever seen.'
"I'm very biased, and everybody knows that, but don't count him out.''
One major challenge for Tebow: Football players are trained to play once a week, and Tebow will have to deal with the daily, routine achiness that's unique to baseball. He stands 6-foot-3 and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 260 pounds, according to Moeller. It's all muscle, but scouts fret that Tebow's thick, tightly wound frame could leave him vulnerable to a wide range of pulls and strains if he's not careful.
The solitary, back-field drudgery of baseball is another potential obstacle. Baseball is a repetition sport, and scores of aspiring big leaguers who've washed out after eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sniffing bus fumes in the minors can attest that talent isn't the only factor in the game's attrition rate.
"Handling the failure rate in baseball will probably be the hardest thing for Tim,'' Bane said. "If he completed 30 percent of his passes, they would boot him out of the league. If he shot 30 percent from the field in the NBA, he's released. If he does good with the bat in baseball 30 percent of the time, he's in Cooperstown. I remember Michael Jordan getting a bunt base hit in the Arizona Fall League. The smile on his face looked like he won the NBA Finals.''
The stage awaits
An AL scout offered his take for ESPN.com.
"It's a strong, one-plane swing,'' the scout said. "There's some tension in the body, and it looked like there's more strength than bat speed. But I thought his upper body rotated freely -- better than I would have expected. That being said, it's easy to find guys that can take batting practice and throw bullpens. The game is what really matters.''
Moeller, keenly aware of that perception, has subjected Tebow to a self-esteem-busting array of challenges. He has enlisted the help of six to eight former professional pitchers and tried to simulate actual game conditions. Teacher and pupil will pretend there's a runner on third base with no one out, and Tebow will try to elevate the ball. Or the scenario could be man on second, nobody out, and Tebow will try to pull the ball to the right side to advance the runner.
Moeller isn't the only one gushing over Tebow's progress. Former big league closer David Aardsma, who is pitching in Tuesday's showcase,?raved about Tebow in an interview with the New York Daily News, and 500-homer man Gary Sheffield gave Tebow a major endorsement on Twitter.
The personnel people who'll watch Tebow on Tuesday have to make their own determinations. A veteran National League scout ticked through the potential pluses and minuses and was surprisingly optimistic.
"He's a very good, strong athlete,'' the scout said. "He runs and throws well. He has a big heart and work ethic, and he has God on his side. So he may have a chance to figure things out.
"Playing devil's advocate, he hasn't seen a good fastball, curveball, slider or changeup in his lifetime, and hitting a baseball may be the hardest athletic thing to do. Michael Jordan failed at baseball. So I'm going to say analytically, never having seen him, it's 65-35 he will never play in the major leagues.''
That 35 percent estimate is about 34 percent higher than a lot of evaluators have in mind. As one American League scout observed, "I've heard good things about the person. But there's no chance he can play.''
Still, the curiosity factor alone is enough for most teams to attend Tebow's audition. MLB clubs all have area scouts in Southern California who won't need to buy a plane ticket or make a hotel reservation. When the only thing at stake is gas money, what's the downside?
Moeller, who hit .226 over 11 seasons with Arizona, Milwaukee and five other clubs, admits to having doubts about Tebow's mental staying power. He constantly reminds Tebow that "baseball is tough on the brain." But one day they were chatting at the cage, and Tebow's answer to the question made him see the challenge in a new light. "Tim told me, 'Think about this: I won the Heisman Trophy. I was Athlete of the Year. Sports Illustrated, etc. Two years later I didn't have a job, and everybody was consistently telling me what I can't do,'" Moeller said. "And I thought, 'You know what? You actually have had to deal with that mental side a lot.' The fact that he still has this outlook gives me confidence he can handle it.
"A big stage isn't going to be an issue. If you followed his career, he performs better on the big stage. The first quarter might not be so pretty. But if you put him in the fourth quarter, at the end of the game, it's gonna be pretty darned good.''
Tim Tebow's latest stage -- a private workout with an audience of maybe 60 scouts and reporters -- is big only in the context of where it might lead. Moeller, his teacher and baseball mentor, has made the pitch. Now it's up to Tebow to close the sale.