Tim Tebow went shopping at a Port St. Lucie Publix Tuesday morning, stocking up on power bars, taking photos with fans who instantly recognized him. The usual.
“I’m always thankful to be in Florida,” said Tebow, suddenly a member of the minor-league Port St. Lucie Mets but forevermore the Heisman Trophy legend of Florida Gators football lore. “I’m close to home and playing with a lot of guys I played with in the spring.
“I’m looking forward to this opportunity starting tonight. I’ll try to make the most of it, but I also understand I’ve got a long way to go.”
All the way, some fine day, to Citi Field and the New York Mets?
“That’s a great question and it would be a great headline,” he said with a laugh during a pregame media session at First Data Field, “but that’s not something I’m focused on. Although I root for the Mets and watch their games, and I got to be friends with a lot of guys on the team, I’m playing for the St. Lucie Mets right now, and that’s where my focus has got to be.”
It’s always a balancing act, building self-confidence high enough to see above the critics and tamping down expectations that a 29-year-old athlete playing his first full season of baseball since high school could jet past the completion.
Tebow is a special case in every way, the way he thinks about this follow-up to a three-year NFL career and the way fans respond to his continued adventures. The Mets promoted him to St. Lucie of the Class-A Florida State League from his original posting with the Columbia Fireflies in South Carolina. Tebow hit. 220 with three homers in 64 games at Columbia, which is considered a lesser league than this one, but attendance soured wherever he played, home or away.
Two hours before Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. first pitch, it wasn’t exactly an avalanche of fans at First Data Field. A couple of customers stood at the windows buying tickets, and a fresh rack of Tebow T-shirts hung in the stadium gift shop, still available at $28 for adult sizes and $20 for kids.
Team officials were expecting a crowd of about 2,000 during the game, a slight bump from St. Lucie’s season average of 1,745 per home date. Everyone will just have to wait and see about the Tebow effect.
He’s building a succesful career as a broadcaster on the SEC Network, talking college football, and is sought by charitable organizations everywhere for the energy he brings to philanthropic efforts. The Florida State League, however, is not a huge draw in the torrid South Florida summertime. Even the Miami Marlins, who play indoors, struggle to build their customer base.
“Just being able to get some at-bats on this field always helps a little bit,” said Tebow, who played some spring training games with the major-league Mets and started his pro baseball career in the Instructional League at Port St. Lucie. “You understand the background and know the fence a little bit, which gives comfort.”
Tebow is scheduled to bat eighth for St. Lucie against the Palm Beach Cardinals Tuesday night and play left field