COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tim Tebow gets weary of the long bus rides and laughs at his teammates’ incessant superstitions. The grind to get better? That’s what fuels Tebow’s drive to pro baseball success even when the ball does not bounce his way.
Tebow carried a .226 batting average through 49 games with the New York Mets’ Single A franchise, the Columbia Fireflies, into Friday night’s home contest with the Charleston RiverDogs, the South Atlantic League club of the New York Yankees that is also in South Carolina.
He’s 29 years old, owns two national titles and a Heisman Trophy as Florida’s quarterback in college and is a college football analyst for ESPN’s SEC Network. Why endure the 10-hour rides, the countless hours in the batting cage and tips from players more than a decade younger?
“It’s the competition,” Tebow simply says.
It’s a desire that’s been put the test in his first two months in the minor leagues. Tebow shakes his head thinking about the long bus trips.
“After about seven hours, you want it to end,” he said with a smile. He laughs about his playful arguments with other Fireflies about rituals and superstitions that fill the clubhouse.
“There are hits in that bat, in that glove,” Tebow went on. “No.”
For Tebow, baseball is about the chance to be out on the field competing for victories, something he did so well in college with the Gators and even as a young NFL quarterback with the Denver Broncos. Baseball is Tebow’s latest — and perhaps last — opportunity to fan the fire of winning.
Not that it’s easy. There’s no clear path to improvement in baseball where one night’s two-double, two-RBI game might be followed by going 0 for 5 with four strikeouts.
“For me, it just to focus on the little things every single day I need to do to get better,” he said.
Tebow still needs to work on his patience at the plate. Too often, he says, there are hitless stretches and more strikeouts than he cares to talk about. He wants to take charge at the plate, but must develop a more selective approach to help his team.
“That’s why I’m in the batting cage so much,” he said.
In left field, Tebow believes he’s made strides at tracking down balls and playing the position.
Fireflies hitting instructor Joel Fuentes thinks the more pitches Tebow sees, the better he’ll get. That was the case Thursday night when Tebow doubled twice and drove in two runs in an 8-0 home win over the Lexington (Kentucky) Legends. He’s remained in the low .200s as far as his batting average with 55 strikeouts in 49 games as an outfielder-designated hitter.
“It’s not just about the results in those games, it’s about what you do in (batting practice), what you do in the cage and then being able to apply that,” he said. “Maybe you did a good job, but you still didn’t have the results.”
Tebow is learning how to what he’s done, watch it on film and refine his swing for a better at bat each time up.
“That doesn’t just go by the stats that you have,” he said.
Despite his statistics, Tebow remains a popular draw for the Fireflies and the South Atlantic League. The Fireflies are second in league attendance (behind Greensboro), drawing 5,154 fans a game. Columbia also plays before sold-out crowds when it travels, attracting sold-out crowds at Hagerstown, Maryland for a series last weekend.
Despite that popularity, Tebow was not selected for the South Atlantic League’s upcoming All-Star game at Columbia’s Spirit Communications Park later this month in voting by fans. He also likely won’t take part in the home run derby competition the night before. There remains no timetable for Tebow leaving the Fireflies.
“That’s not something I’m concerned about,” Tebow said. “I just want to get better each game.”
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