In Mets debut, Tim Tebow absorbs fans' love, ready to 'embrace the grind'

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - They shrieked the moment they spotted him on the baseball field. They gave him a standing ovation after each round of batting practice. The lively crowd, nearing almost 600, even cheered him during calisthenics.
 
Tim Tebow, the legendary Florida quarterback and newest member of the New York Mets organization, captivated this sleepy town Monday morning, with kids skipping school and adults calling in sick from work.
 
There was 10-year-old Jacquee Methot standing by the fence behind home plate, holding a portrait of Tebow, painted by her older sister, calling out his name.
 
Uh, any reason you’re not in school?
 
“It’s a historical field trip,’’ she said, as adults cheered her answer.  
 
Andy Favata, a University of Florida alumnus with a Gator tattoo on his left ankle, and wearing a Tebow jersey from his days at UF, brought along his 13-year-old daughter, Bella.

Shouldn’t she be in school with the rest of her seventh-grade class?

“She felt sick today,’’ Favata said. “So it was take-your-daughter-to-work day. We had to be here.’’

It was like that everywhere you looked among the legion of Tebow fans, some disguised as Mets fans, with a first-hand look at one of the most popular athletes in all of Florida who once led the Gators to two national championships while also winning the Heisman Trophy.

“I can’t think of a sports figure in today’s game,’’ said Paul Taglieri, Mets’ director of minor-league facilities, “that would have more of an impact. Maybe a rock star. Or Jay-Z. But not an athlete.

“In Florida, he’s an icon.’’

The Mets’ minor-league complex was swarming with 70 media members, a hovering news helicopter, and 577 fans, many wearing the new Mets Tebow jerseys, vintage Tebow Florida Gator jerseys, or even jerseys from his days with the Denver Broncos.

“Usually, we have maybe a Mom or Dad here,’’ Taglieri said. “A couple of scouts. And that’s about it. Nothing like this.’’

Mary West, 65, was one of the first to buy a Mets Tebow jersey from the gift shop, yes, with the same No. 15 and orange-and-blue color scheme as his football days. Only she was wearing a $28 youth version, (“That’s all I could afford," she says) instead of the $119.99 authentic jerseys that became the best-seller on the Mets’ website in a matter of minutes.

Psst, don’t tell anyone, but she’s actually from Eden Prairie, Minn., and a diehard Minnesota Twins fan. It didn’t stop her from yelling to Tebow as he strolled by: “Go for it, Tebow! I hope you make it.’’

Tebow, stopped, smiled, and dropped the two bats he was carrying while trying to fist-pump the fans lined up to touch him as he walked between fields.

It was a genuine lovefest all morning at the Mets’ spring-training complex, with temperatures in the 90’s with stifling humidity and $3 bottled waters the only thing selling more than Tebow jerseys.

Tebow turned and smiled when fans asked for a picture during a water break. He smiled when someone asked whether he actually knew Peyton Manning. He picked up the baseballs after batting practice, and even hauled a bag of balls to the dugout, not unlike the 57 other minor league hopefuls who joined him in this instructional league camp.

Tebow, 29, loved his first day as a Met, and baseball workouts sure are easier than those NFL two-a-days, but he did feel a little old when he walked into the minor-league complex as the only player born in the '80s - and no one else older than 25. They wanted to hear stories from his glory days in the college, or the time he led the Broncos past the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 2011 wild-card game.  

No one knows if Day 1 in the Mets’ three-week instructional league camp will be the highlight of his professional baseball career. No one is giving him a realistic chance of ever reaching the big leagues, let alone ever becoming a star like Bo Jackson. There are plenty of major league and minor-league players, along with baseball executives, who are convinced this is nothing more than a farce.

Tebow hears the critics, and says he’ll respond only with his actions, truly believing he will wind up in the major leagues one day. If not, he will hardly consider himself a failure.

“A lot of people might say, “You have a chip on your shoulder,’’’ Tebow said. “Well, I guess I have a little chip. But it’s not really the naysayers. It’s more that I want to prove the coaches right, the Mets’ organization, my teammates, and try to be the best player I can.

“More important, the best person I can.’’


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