There’s just something about Tim Tebow. The Heisman Trophy winner and former Denver Broncos quarterback signed a minor league contract with the New York Mets’ organization last summer. Since then, the former Florida Gator has been a huge draw in the single-A South Atlantic League, which shares fan base territory with his college alma mater.
The Hickory Crawdads sold out four games with the Fireflies, its total of 17,500 for the series surpassing the 15,900 they drew their first eight games.
“We had 4,500 people in the stands,” Crawdads season ticket holder Christopher Pack said, “and 4,300 were there to see Tim Tebow.”
People show up in Tebow’s NFL jerseys, and Florida Gator outfits, lining up around the rails in this intimate ballparks trying to get autograph or a selfie with Tebow.
It may be unclear if he will ever get to “The Show,” but one is clear: Tebow is the biggest show currently playing Class A ball.
That was apparent last Saturday in the eighth inning against Hickory when Tebow, on his off day with the New York Mets affiliate , heard the Crawdads crowd chant his name, hoping that Columbia manager Jose Leger would get him in the game.
“It’s not something you see all the time,” Hickory general manager Mark Seaman said.
The welcomed chaos has been evident during Tebow’s three road trips in April.
In Augusta, Georgia, the GreenJackets front-office staff had to scramble and find enough workers for concessions: 5,830 fans turned out, well above their season’s average of 3,190. A few days later in Rome, Georgia, — smack in the heart of Southeastern Conference football territory where the former Florida Gator was a polarizing figure — Tebow and the Fireflies drew 5,105 fans.
In fairness, Tebow was primarily a polarizing figure in the SEC because he played for one of the teams. Many SEC football fans admitted that had Tebow played for their team–such as my beloved University of Georgia Bulldogs–he’d have been the ideal boy for their daughters to bring home.
Since leaving college, Tebow has struggled to find his place. Being taken in the first round of the NFL draft should have been sufficient to get the vaunted college star a fair shot at the pro ranks, but Tebow’s career was marred not by injury, but by pundits saying he simply didn’t have what it takes to play the game.
This was despite a 7-4 record for the Denver Broncos in 2011, leading them to the second round of the playoffs.
While it remains to be seen whether Tebow will make it to the major leagues, in the meantime he seems to be enjoying the ride in professional baseball. Perhaps just as importantly, the ride sure seems to be enjoying him.