Felipe Alou, the Dominican baseball legend, has deep roots in Palm Beach County

I’ll be meeting with Boynton Beach’s Felipe Alou this week for a column on his new book, “Alou: My Baseball Journey,” and a celebration of his long ties to Palm Beach County.

As an appetizer, here is something I wrote way back in 1991 about a West Palm Beach Expos team that Felipe managed to the Florida State League championship. What happened to them on the bus ride home from the title series in Clearwater is a classic tale of life in the minors.

(A column from the Sept. 11, 1991 Palm Beach Post)

By Dave George, Sports Columnist

MINOR CELEBRATIONS CAN’T DAMPEN MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

   Sirens blared in the streets of West Palm Beach Tuesday, heralding the
arrival of the newly crowned Florida State League champions. A police car led the West Palm Beach Expos‘ bus down Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and into the
Municipal Stadium parking lot, the triumphant conclusion to a return trip from Clearwater and the deciding game of the league championship series.
Somewhere, a dog barked, his echo bouncing off dark buildings. Perhaps a

Felipe Alou around 1991 as manager of the West Palm Beach Expos, a job he held for seven seasons before moving up to manage the Montreal Expos and San Francisco Giants (Palm Beach Post file photo)

drifter stirred drowsily on a bus stop bench. If anyone else other than a
handful of loyal fans was aware of the Expos‘ victory parade, which lasted
from approximately 4:28 to 4:30 a.m., they could only have been on their way
to make the doughnuts.
By 5:15, most of the Expos‘ clubhouse was stripped of personal belongings, the parking lot cleared of players’ cars. Six hours earlier, these young
dreamers had been hugging and laughing and whooping it up over a league title that was 138 games in the making. The celebration, however, didn’t make it to sunrise. The real world had lurched back into action by then and the Expos had resumed their offseason lives, each group oblivious of the other.
“There are lot of West Palm Beach Expos in Alabama and Mississippi and
South Carolina right now, all of them headed home,” said Expos pitcher Doug
Bochtler, a former John I. Leonard High School star.
Rest assured that none of them are traveling by bus. Never again will they board one of those rolling bricks voluntarily.
“I guarantee you that if a major league team wins the World Series, their plane doesn’t break down on the way home like our bus did last night,”
Bochtler said.
SOME VICTORY LAP
Stranded on I-95 near Blue Heron Boulevard, the champions dealt with one
last dose of Class-A confusion. Still riding the high of the franchise’s first league title in 17 years, philosophy won out over frustration.
“When the bus kicked out, I guess it was just fate, something to keep the team together a little longer,” said Ron Colangelo, the Expos‘ radio voice.
Move over, Pops Stargell. Here is a real baseball family, playing for
minor league scraps rather than bonus playoff money. Playing like there may be no other games to play, next season or any other. For some of the
overachievers on the roster of manager Felipe Alou, there won’t be.
“A couple of the guys came by my house around noon to say goodbye on
their way out of town,” Bochtler said. “The way everybody left showed the
biggest key to us winning the whole thing. This wasn’t a traditional handshake and good luck thing. There were guys hugging and saying thanks. We all know
this could be our only chance at winning a championship.”
Bochtler never won a baseball title before, despite being good enough to
share the FSL lead in victories (12). He was 7-2 with an 0.72 ERA as a Leonard senior, but didn’t experience the team success of a district title. Same goes for his American Legion Post 47 team or Indian River Community College.
Taking the field in Clearwater Monday night, all the emotions bubbled up
at once. The Expos were playing for the league title, but they were doing so
in front of just 292 fans. Also, even though West Palm Beach was about to win it all as a wild-card playoff entry, not a single Expo name was called as FSL President Chuck Murphy announced the league all-star team before the game.
Minor slights, these were, when the team was sized for championship rings a
few hours later.
“That was the greatest feeling ever,” Bochtler said. “Even if I make it
some day to pitch in Montreal, that ring won’t come off me.”
MOM KNOWS BEST
All the rainouts and rescheduled doubleheaders should come with some
reward. The Expos have a loyal following, averaging nearly 1,800 at home games in 1991 to rank second in the league. But in the end, it’s up to the players
to find their own motivation. They won the opening game of the FSL
championship series at home before a crowd of 480. They won for themselves.
Alone.
“People who don’t get involved with this team don’t know what they’re
missing,” said Louise Hiers of West Palm Beach. “These are just young kids a
long way from home, some of them for the first time.”
Louise, 65, is known as “Mom” by the Expos. She has been at almost every
home game for the last 18 seasons. Monday night she was with them in
Clearwater, and when the team arrived at Municipal Stadium early Tuesday
morning, she was there again, kissing and hugging each player as he stepped
off the bus.
Thus, Mom sent her family to the four winds. A championship team dissolved into the dawn, just like all beautiful dreams.

Batting eighth for your St. Lucie Mets, Tim Tebow

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.

In this April 30, 2017 photo, Columbia Fireflies’ Tim Tebow accommodates some lucky fans with an autograph before a minor league baseball game against the Hickory Crawdads at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory, N.C.  (Ernie Masche/Record/The Hickory Daily Record via AP)

“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.

[Remember 2003 before you try to predict Heat’s offseason moves]

[LeBron may be 3-5 in NBA Finals but he’s a long way from a loser]

[Players on ice and coaches on hot seats, the thermodynamics of NHL life]

“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

Tebow’s promotion to St. Lucie could be a summer happening

Tim Tebow isn’t exactly killing it in the South Atlantic League but he might be almost due for a promotion anyway.

Does it matter when and where that happens? Well, of course it does, whether you believe in the potential of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s baseball career or not.

 

Tim Tebow signs autographs with fans before the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox spring training game at First Data Field in Pt. St. Lucie on March 8, 2017. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The New York Post reported a month ago, with information provided by a source within the New York Mets organization, that Tebow could join the St. Lucie Mets by midseason.

Interpret that any way you want. The halfway point of the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies season is already here, for instance, and Tebow, batting .224 with 66 strikeouts in 201 at-bats, is not getting any younger. As for whatever constitutes the midseason at the major-league level, the All-Star Game comes to Marlins Park on July 11.

The promotion from low Class-A competition to what is considered High A could come at any time, in other words, if it is coming at all. I believe we will see Tebow in Port St. Lucie this summer for a couple of reasons.

First, the Mets need to find out if a player nearing his 30th birthday has any hope of being a September call-up to the major-league team some day, for promotional purposes at least.

Second, Tebow has been a sensational draw for the Fireflies at home and for their opponents on the road. He’s been playing in SEC country, which helps, but a relocation to the Florida State League would ring the bell even louder for Florida Gators fans in particular.

How many extra people would come to a St. Lucie Mets game in the middle of a South Florida summer if Tebow were in uniform? Well, we certainly wouldn’t be talking sellouts, but there would have to be a significant improvement over the following numbers.

The St. Lucie Mets are averaging 1,727 fans per home game at First Data Field. That’s fifth-best in the league and more than 5,000 below capacity.

Put him on a bus and every Florida State League team will be planning promotions around Tebow. Think of the Jupiter Hammerheads, averaging 883 customers per home game, and the Palm Beach Cardinals, averaging 717, or the Dunedin Blue Jays, who are dragging bottom at 540.

The Mets were selling Tebow uniform tops on his first day of Instructional League workouts at Port St. Lucie last September, and he did his usual duty signing autographs and making friends. This is not a small matter for minor-league baseball operators.

[Themodynamics of NHL life: Players on ice and coaches on hot seats]

[LeBron 3-5 in NBA Finals but he’s a long way from being a loser]

[Koepka and Berger make it two in a row for genuine PB county products]

Columbia is a close second in its league this season with an average attendance of 5,210 and a rollicking run on Tebow memorabilia. Last year the team’s average attendance was 3,785.

Last weekend in Charleston the Riverdogs, a Yankees farm club, paid plenty of attention to Tebow by mocking him on the stadium’s video board. Images of him crying on the Gator sidelines near the end of an SEC Championship game loss to Alabama got lots of play. When Tebow’s teammates were at the plate, their names and stats were shown on the board with an additional notation in large letters – “NOT TIM TEBOW.”

Was the promotional staff angry to have Tebow in Charleston or something?

Certainly not. Charleston sold out its stadium for all three of the weekend games featuring Tebow. Crowds ranged between 6,557 and 7,331 for a franchise with an average home attendance of 4,311.

This is how it works. Tebow sells, which would be good for the St. Lucie Mets or any other team that gets him.

If it’s not them, the Class AA team in the Mets’ system are his next possible landing spot. They are the Binghamton Rumble Ponies of the Eastern League, and their opponents include the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Akron RubberDucks and the Hartford Yard Goats.

This is the minor league game and make no mistake. Tebow is a major player in it.