CLEARWATER — As a kid in Phoenix, Luke Leftwich would touch home plate after scoring and point to the heavens, just like they did in the major leagues.
"Those are the subtle things that people don't realize unless they kind of have faith and you realize he's subtly thanking God in front of millions who are watching," Leftwich, a reliever for the Clearwater Threshers, said. "He's thanking God for blessing him to be in that situation."
Kids emulate the stars. A generation thirsted for Air Jordans to be like Michael. How many today know why they wear their ball caps backward? Thank you, Ken Griffey Jr.
How many today have a deeper faith or are more open about their faith because of Tim Tebow?
"He wins the Heisman Trophy, he thanks God. He sticks to his faith," Threshers centerfielder Mark Laird said. "I think he's a good example of that."
The gates at Spectrum Field swung open at 6 p.m. Tuesday, and fans quickly moved through them with the majority heading to the first-base side of the stadium to get in position for a photo op or to get Tebow's autograph.
Some wore Florida Gator shirts and jerseys. Some wore T-shirts proclaiming their Christian faith.
That's the Tebow Effect.
"An athlete, especially a high-profile athlete like Tim Tebow, become role models, not just for their athletic abilities but the kind of things they espouse, and sometimes it's very superficial, like clothing or shoes," Father Len Plazewski, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in South Tampa, said. "I think it's pretty awesome when somebody comes along like Tim Tebow whose faith is the most important thing in his life, and he's not afraid to share that."
Rays rightfielder Steven Souza Jr. often talks about his deep Christian faith and how it applies to playing baseball. In that respect, Souza the major-leaguer and Tebow the minor-leaguer are on the same team.
"From just watching from afar, his goal is to spread the Gospel, and he's doing a good job in that," Souza said. "The problem lies when you're saying one thing and doing the other. He hasn't done that. He's saying one thing and living that way, and when that happens, people are curious to why he lives that way."
Tebow is viewed as the poster boy for Christian athletes. Souza, though, doesn't see it that way.
"It doesn't seem like he wants to be the poster," Souza said, "he's just living the way he does."
Poster boy or not, Tebow did not start the movement.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes dates back to 1954. The Baseball Chapel began in the early 1970s.
Leftwich and Laird are members of both.
Baseball players have been blessing themselves before stepping into the batter's box for years. Football teams have been praying together after games at midfield since the 1990s.
Baseball players such as Rays leftfielder Corey Dickerson and former Ray Ben Zobrist use Christian songs as their walk-up music.
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Leftwich grew up rooting for the Arizona Cardinals and quarterback Kurt Warner, who didn't hesitate to credit Jesus Christ for his accomplishments. Those postgame interviews certainly hit home with Leftwich.
"You could listen to him speak and hear him talk about God and his faith, and that's someone you want to emulate as an aspiring athlete," Leftwich said.
Leftwich says a prayer as he runs in from the bullpen each time he pitches. Like his teammate Laird, and like a number of players across the minor and major leagues (including Souza), Leftwich attends weekly Baseball Chapel.
"I think it keeps me centered in this roller-coaster game where there's always emotions taking you to the top and taking you to the bottom," he said. "It's always good to have God there to keep you in the middle."