As any sports fan who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last couple months knows that former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow is attempting to play professional baseball. Actually, he is playing professional baseball since he is getting paid for his time with the Class-A Columbia Fireflies. That being said, it doesn’t appear that he is having much success, aside from two home runs that consequently blew up the baseball twitterverse. However, Tebow’s lack of success has not deterred fans from coming out in swarms to see Tebowmania- the All-American/Playoff Quarterback/Tom Brady Backup/SEC Network Broadcaster turned minor league outfielder.
I went to the Fireflies’ (Low Single-A Affiliate of the New York Mets) first road game against the Augusta GreenJackets (Low Single-A Affiliate of the San Francisco Giants) and it can only be described as having been a madhouse. As a current University of Georgia undergrad, the multiple Tebow football jerseys I saw gave me some painful flashbacks to the very limited success my Dawgs have had against Florida in recent years. Tebow is one of those athletes you either love or love to hate, and that was evidenced by the consistent mix of boos and cheers every time he was up to bat, touched the ball, and even when he ran to and from the dugout between innings. There were drunk hecklers abound, but there were also plenty of people hoping for a homer and a Heisman pose.
Tebowmania Rages On
What was even crazier about the whole ordeal was the people who stayed after the game waiting on Tebow for him to sign autographs, take pictures, kiss babies, turn water into wine, and feed the 5830 people who were there with only five loaves of bread and two fish.
So amid all of the craziness and hype the big question is: “What does this mean for baseball?” Well, from what I can tell, about 99% people were there only for Tebow. Very few even cared what happened in the game. Very few cared that Columbia is a very good team who won their first five games of the season while not trailing at all among any of the 45 innings they played. Very few cared that the starter for Columbia, Jordan Humphreys (The primary reason I was there, for the record. We played together in high school- Crystal River High School Class of ’15, Google it people.) took a perfect game into the 6th and has struck out 9 batters in each of his first two starts. Very few cared that Desmond Lindsey, a second round pick in 2015 and a top prospect in the Mets system, was making plays all over the field. Right now, Columbia is in good position to win the South Atlantic League. And even so, few people outside of Columbia, Port St. Lucie (home of the Mets High-A affiliate), and New York care. One of the benefits of Tebowmania is that it does get people in the door even if they aren’t really interested in the complete product that the teams are putting out on the field. When you are able to attract this kind of crowd, it could be an opportunity to show people that they really enjoy a game that they may not have in the first place, which is something that should be welcomed by all baseball fans. The money the teams in the Sally League are making is just a bonus I guess.
Not Everyone Enjoys the Media Circus
One major downside is that it does create a pretty large distraction for the players who are there to work their way up the levels of the minor leagues. To them, Tebowmania is an unnecessary side-show, a wave of unnecessary publicity for a player who happens to be famous for his exploits in another sport. With a long bus ride to the next city looming, it’s hard to imagine the other players enjoy dealing with hundreds of autograph seekers hanging around just for a slim chance at a little face time with Tebow.
You can’t really blame Tebow for all of the attention. It’s not his fault that people love him. He wants to play professional baseball and everything extra is just a distracting side effect. All he can control is the effort he gives. I’m not talking about the effort on the field, he’s a gamer, always has been and always will be. I’m talking about his commitment to actually trying to get to the majors, which seems to been in question. I find it hard to take anyone who attempts to play professional baseball seriously when they take Saturdays off to appear on the SEC Network, which is exactly what Tebow did last fall. Granted, it was the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League where there are much fewer eyes on the team from the media and fans, but if he were to do so again this year, it would be pretty indicative that this was all a PR ploy.
I guess at this point we just have to wait and see what happens, but if baseball doesn’t work out don’t be surprised when you see a familiar face wearing number 15 for the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the East Coast Hockey League.
Photos Courtesy of Tanner McClure