TAMPA — Tim Tebow the baseball player has had some ups and downs. His 2017 season has featured hot streaks and slumps, highlights and lowlights, leaving talent evaluators unsure about his future.
Tim Tebow the human being, on the other hand, is the same as ever: gracious and kind, and always looking to brighten a child's day.
In Saturday's St. Lucie Mets game at Steinbrenner Field, a 5-1 victory for the Tampa Yankees, Tebow had no hits and two strikeouts in three at-bats. Still, each at-bat elicited cheers. But nothing made the crowd light up like what Tebow did during the seventh-inning stretch.
The Yankees usually go with a recording of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. On Saturday, they opted for a live singer to perform God Bless America.
Jillian Joyce, a 27-year-old Tampa resident with cerebral palsy, was ready to sing, but let the announcer know that she wanted to have Tebow's support for her performance. The outfielder didn't hesitate. He ran over behind home plate, stood next to her and guided her through the song, hugging her when she finished.
Nearly all the fans were on their feet, clapping and cheering for them both.
Joyce's mother, Lillian, said her daughter is a singer with the Pyramid Players, a local group of special-needs adults that performs in the area. Jillian has attended one of the special-needs proms Tebow organizes, and she met him before the game to talk about her experiences.
"He was so nice to her — he was just wonderful," Lillian said. "When you're a parent of a special needs person, you're just so grateful for all that he does."
Kim and Bill Fisackerly, 53 and 54, are Florida State fans. But the Tampa residents like Tebow as well, and they applauded the 2007 UF Heisman winner's gesture in the seventh.
"He has a heart for special needs," said Kim, who donned a Tebow Mets shirsey. "I know he doesn't like all the hoopla on him, but he's using it for a good cause, so that's beautiful to see."
Tebow later suffered an injury scare. Leading off the ninth inning against left-hander Trevor Lane, Tebow took a pitch to the head. He kept his footing, but the blow sent his helmet flying.
The crowd rained down boos as Tebow walked slowly to first. A Mets trainer checked on him, as he appeared shaken, but he remained in the game.
Three batters later, Tebow scored on a double by shortstop J.C. Rodriguez. From the instant the ball left Rodriguez's bat, to long after Tebow crossed the plate, fans cheered and applauded.
No immediate update on Tebow's condition was available after the game. Mets manager Chad Kreuter gave Tebow a day off Thursday, his third since being promoted in late June. With the series finale scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m., the team could rest him again as a precaution. St. Lucie then opens a four-game series against the Clearwater Threshers at Spectrum Field on Monday night, when Tebow's 30th birthday will be celebrated.
Tebow's hitting slump continued. He's 7-for-56 in his last 16 games.
But the fans were still supportive.
Donna Fellows-Coffey, a 40-year-old Davenport resident, said Tebow is used to the pressure from those supporters, having played at Florida and in the NFL.
"How many minor leaguers do you see that have people in the stands with their T-shirts on?" said Fellows-Coffey, who was wearing a Tebow Mets shirsey. "Sometimes he overperforms, and sometimes he's just a football guy trying to make it, but … you can't expect him to homer every game."