PORT ST. LUCIE – Six minutes into Tim Tebow’s first workout as a member of the New York Mets’ organization a local television news helicopter arrived overhead, which begged the question: What took them so long?
Already Monday morning more than 100 media members were gathered on the back fields at Tradition Field, the Mets’ spring-training facility, to see the former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback stretch and warm up with players 10 years his junior.
Already the first wave of an estimated 400 fans was in place, wearing Florida Gators jerseys with his famous No. 15 or carrying them for a hopeful autograph signing opportunity later, along with a few Denver Broncos and New York Jets shirts. The Mets’ public attendance count was 400 at 11 a.m., but people continued to walk in after that, with the workout scheduled to end at 1 p.m.
Tebow is doing his best, meanwhile, to blend in. Not easy for him, but it never is.
If the Mets had given him No. 99 instead of No. 15, it wouldn’t have mattered. Those who love Tebow are fixated on him alone, standing along the fences and backstops and occasionally letting out a whoop or an attaboy whenever he does something, anything, like taking a lead off first base as part of a baserunning drill or tracking a fly ball in left field.
It won’t be like this every day. Tebow, starting out his professional baseball career at 29, will have the weekend off to do his pregame work analyzing college football for the SEC Network.
He was in Oxford, Miss., for instance, last Saturday for the Alabama-Ole Miss game before flying to Florida for this new gig. He’ll be leaving here after Thursday’s workout to report to more SEC Network duty, probably LSU at Auburn, and then back next week for more baseball drills.
Today at 1:30 p.m., there’s supposed to be a press conference with Tebow. Meanwhile, he’s working hard with these mini-Mets, some of them former draft picks coming off busy minor-league seasons and others entry-level players in their late teens.
Every now and again Tebow must jog past the assembled media on the way from one field to the next. “How’s it going?” he always is asked and a smile is all he gives. Everyone wants more, of course. One time, as he moved between diamonds, Tebow gave some quick hand slaps to fans leaning over a railing and in the process dropped the bat and glove he was carrying.
It’s a lot to handle, this Tebow lifestyle. He’s likely to spend a few weeks in Port St. Lucie, a stretch that might include some games at Roger Dean Stadium against Instructional League players from the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. Everything is up for grabs at this point, with a possible assignment to a Fall League in Arizona another possibility.
He’s up for anything, apparently, or this highly public plunge into baseball’s backwaters never would have happened.