TAMPA — Eli Fishman, a sports reporter and writer for Eli Fishman Sports, a New Jersey-based sports web site, stood in the press box at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Thursday. Like the rest of us, he was waiting for Tebow.
Unlike the rest of us, Eli is 13 years old. He started his web site two years ago and his YouTube channel three years ago and got his braces last year. Eli has blond hair, rosy cheeks and is visiting his grandmother in Clearwater, He spent Thursday morning at the New York Yankees minor-league facility on Himes Avenue, interviewing Gulf Coast League players and coaches.
Eli, who lives in Maplewood, N.J., is legit. He works hard at his web site. He has interviewed former Yankees Tino Martinez and Willie Randolph, and Goose Gossage and Sparky Lyle. "And Reggie Jackson," Eli said.
Now, about Tim Tebow … Eli said he wasn't a fan.
"I don't really think he belongs in baseball," Eli said.
Not long after that, word came that Tebow Effect was arriving on the late bus with other St. Lucie Mets teammates to play the Tampa Yankees. Eli shouted, 'Buses!" Some buses were turning onto Dale Mabry Highway. One, then two, then three, then four. And a police escort. I broke the news to Eli that it was just the local football team, the Bucs, heading for the airport and an away game.
Eventually, Tebow arrived in the visitors' dugout and met with media for what will be his only interview during St. Lucie's eight-game swing through Tampa Bay.
Tebow delivered. He was quotable and funny. And he was just nuts about the adorable kid with the microphone and the camera, and the braces on his teeth, especially when he asked a question.
"First of all, what's your name, buddy?" Tebow asked.
Eli told him.
"Eli, nice to meet you, man," Tebow said.
Tebow reaffirmed that he is going to play baseball next season, too.
As for his doubters, his critics …
"I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it," Tebow said. "If people want you to fail, then there are probably other things that are the root issue of that, and it's not me. I want to be someone who's a believer. A believer, first and foremost, in my God. A believer in my teammates, my abilities, why I'm here. A believer in people. I want to bring the best out of people, bring the most out of people, whether it's in relationships with my family, friends, everybody.
He added, "You want to be someone who uplifts people. I want people's lives to be better because I'm in their life. I don't want their lives to be worse because I'm in it. That's something I take into every relationship, everything that I do.
"It doesn't matter that I'm talking to you right now. Hopefully, your day is better because of how I answered your question. Hopefully, my teammates are better because of the way I'm going to go out and stretch with them. Everything you do, you have a chance for influence, which is one of the greatest things we can do in life, have influence over other people.
"It's something I take when I go talk to a big crowd. It's something that I take talking to Eli right now. Every opportunity that you get, that's what I try to bring every different situation."
Tebow, who grew up in Jacksonville, said he didn't see Michael Jordan experiment with baseball in Jacksonville in 1994.
"I don't know if we have something in common," Tebow said. "We have a competitive itch, and there's also a drive, that you don't want to live with the regret of why you didn't do something because of the thought of failure.
"I think that's something that hampers a lot of people and it holds people back because they're afraid of the unknown, they're afraid of tomorrow, they're afraid of what people are going to say, they're afraid of what you all are going to say.
"And because of that, a lot of people won't strive for something. Striving and failing isn't the worst thing. But one day, when you're looking back and you're 50 and you're thinking, 'Man, I wish I would have tried this and this,' that would be a pretty big regret."
Interview concluded. Tebow told Eli, "You killed it, man." Eli handed Tebow his business card for Eli Fishman Sports.
Later, Eli was interviewed on the field by a local TV station. He was a rock star.
And a convert. A Tebow fan.
"Yeah, I think I am," Eli said.