Minor League Baseball: The Tim Tebow Circus, Two Weeks In

Apr 7, 2017; Columbia, SC, USA; Columbia Fireflies outfielder Tim Tebow (15) looks out of the dugout prior to the game against the Augusta GreenJackets at Spirit Communications Park. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2017; Columbia, SC, USA; Columbia Fireflies outfielder Tim Tebow (15) looks out of the dugout prior to the game against the Augusta GreenJackets at Spirit Communications Park. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports /

The Columbia Fireflies paid a visit to Rome, Georgia to play the Braves. Just how well is New York Mets rookie prospect Tim Tebow adjusting?

ROME, GA — Having covered a bit of minor league baseball in my day, the sights in Rome, Georgia on Monday night were on an entirely different level. That was because the biggest attraction in minor league baseball – the New York Mets’ Tim Tebow – was in town.

Tebow, of course, made his well-known return to baseball this past fall out in the desert. His debut came with much scrutiny, both for his performance and decision to come back to a sport he hadn’t played since high school. Still, the Mets invited him to spring training where, after just a few starts, he was assigned to minor league camp.

Now he is the starting left fielder for the Fireflies.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Tebow told the mass of reporters surrounding him in his pregame press conference. “Getting used to everything. This will be our second road stretch. Trying to find my approach and my process on the road.”

And that’s just the thing with Tebow. He generates a crowd. Having covered every aspect of minor league baseball – from a regular season game, to an All Star Game, to a championship series – the press conference is few and far between.

The sellout crowd on a Monday night? That’s almost unheard of.

“I don’t really try to think about it or pay attention to it,” Tebow said. “I just try to get used to my new process with this. If I have the opportunity to make some people happy or smile by shaking a hand or signing an autograph, that’s pretty awesome. I always wanted to be someone that transcended the sport that I’m playing. So at the end of the day I get base hit, strike out, throw a touchdown or an interception, it’s just a game. But if you can do more than that with the platform you are given, that’s something really special.”

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Tebow is best-known as the Heisman and national championship-winning quarterback of the Florida Gators a decade ago. Monday night, he returned to the heart of Bulldog country, something which he embraced.

“People don’t really always understand about SEC country, when you’re playing against the other team it is incredibly intense,” Tebow said. “They may say some things to you that they don’t always mean. When you’re away from playing against – let’s say Georgia – people support people from the SEC. It was like that in the NFL, and you see other guys you played against all year. Then you all of a sudden have something that you went through together.”

Tebow, who still wears the same jersey number he did as a Gator, Bronco and Jet, wasn’t always that familiar No. 15.

“I was a Braves fan at times,” Tebow said. “Especially Chipper [Jones] being a Jacksonville Bulls guy. And [Greg] Maddux and [Tom] Glavine. Not as big as my brothers were, because I liked Frank Thomas also. Big Hurt. I wore 35 because of him.”

Now, Tebow is two weeks into his first run at full-season ball. The numbers don’t jump off the page – he is hitting .171 with two home runs and nine RBI through his first 11 games – but he has shown improvement.

In Arizona, he showed little awareness of the strike zone, striking out 20 times and walking just eight. While his numbers may appear the same now – 10 strikeouts to just three walks – it’s important to realize that he’s struck out just once in his last 20 at bats, a five-game span.

In return he has made a lot more contact, and quite surprisingly, it is pretty solid contact at that.

Tebow is certainly making the adjustments.

“Getting used to playing everyday,” Tebow said of his biggest challenge. “It’s so different than football. You prepare all offseason for 16 games [NFL] or 12 games [NCAA], whatever it is. Then in-season you have a week to prepare. Now you have to make adjustments from swing-to-swing, at bat-to-at bat, and game-to-game. You’re training your body differently.”

Monday night, Tebow went 1-for-4. He did also reach on an error and scored the Fireflies’ first run. His lone hit came as the second batter in the top of the ninth. After a lead-off single from Jose Miguel Medina, Tebow went to the opposite field – which is becoming his calling card – with a hard-hit single. The Fireflies would strand Tebow on third as the tying run.

Rome won the day 3-2.

“They saw a really good ball game tonight,” Rome Braves skipper Randy Ingle said. “If they like baseball, then hopefully it was good enough for them to come back and see us. For us to come out with the upper hand in front of a sellout crowd, hopefully they had a lot of fun.

“Everywhere he’s been they have big crowds, there’s a lot of Tebow fans out there,” Ingle continued. “Hopefully they’ll get into the game enough that they’ll want to buy another ticket.”

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Tebow has a long way to go. Despite being 29 in a league full of players nearly 10 years his junior, Tebow makes similar mistakes. That has to be expected for someone away from the game as long as he has been.

That being said, with his known work ethic and drive, Tebow won’t relent. He’ll continue to do and say the right things, it’s just a matter of how long it takes. He doesn’t have the same time as other prospects.

But it’s certainly worth noting his progress, no matter how minor it may be.

The sellout crowds continue to confirm that.