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Tebowmania headed to Tampa Bay

St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow (15) signs autographs for fans before the game between the St. Lucie Mets and the Charlotte Stone Crabs at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, July 29, 2017.
St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow (15) signs autographs for fans before the game between the St. Lucie Mets and the Charlotte Stone Crabs at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, July 29, 2017.
Published Aug. 4, 2017

When Tim Tebow comes to town, nothing is normal.

That's been apparent every game he's played with the St. Lucie Mets, and both the Clearwater Threshers and the Tampa Yankees know it will be the case when they get their own tastes of Tebowmania in the coming weeks.

Threshers general manager John Timberlake said he can't recall any player during his time in Clearwater that has brought close to the attention Tebow has.

"There's been nothing here in Clearwater I've seen like this," Timberlake said. "It's pretty incredible when a single-A team has a player that commands those kind of crowds simply by being on the roster. It's a pretty incredible situation.

"I'd compare it somewhat to when Michael Jordan was playing double-A baseball in Birmingham because he had that type of draw. I think that certain teams would tell you that back in the day when Roger Clemens pitched a game for the Tampa Yankees they had very large crowds on hand for that, but his appeal is certainly massive when it comes to generating fans, and certainly in Florida we expect that even more so."

Tebow's presence has been a boon to attendance for every team he has faced, with most opponents reporting season-high crowds when the Mets visit. The Threshers and the Yankees both expect similar boosts, with strong early ticket sales proving anticipation is high.

"At this point we've sold between 3,500 and 4,000 tickets in advance for that series and we do expect that to increase considerably between now and then," Timberlake said. "Based on some of our other clubs in the Florida State League and the numbers they've put up against St. Lucie since Tim Tebow joined their team we anticipate 5,000 or more pretty much every game of that series. Our Tuesdays are normally good anyways … so that night could balloon up more to 6,000 or even 7,000."

Will Vragovic | Times

St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow signs autographs for fans before the game between the Mets and the Charlotte Stone Crabs at Charlotte Sports Park on July 29.

Will Vragovic | Times

St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow signs autographs for fans before the game between the Mets and the Charlotte Stone Crabs at Charlotte Sports Park on July 29.

The attention surrounding Tebow has been evident during his time in Florida so far. Rick Pedone, sports editor for the Osceola News Gazette, said it was clear that the majority of the crowd came to see the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner when the Mets visited the Florida Fire Frogs in July.

"People have come from all over central Florida to see him, often wearing UF or New York Mets gear," Pedone said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm."

"There was a record crowd of 5,515 out to see the Fire Frogs on (July 22), and St. Lucie chose not to play him. There were a lot of boos when he wasn't selected to pinch hit for a batter in the eighth inning."

Tebow has been the center of attention everywhere he has visited since his pro baseball career began, but teams have found a need to strike a balance between embracing Tebow's star power and avoiding placing all of the spotlight on him, particularly considering the possibility the Mets may rest Tebow on any given day.

Tebow timeline: TDs to RBIs

The Tim Tebow pro baseball experiment began almost exactly a year ago, when his agents — Jimmy Sexton and Nick Khan — announced he was seeking tryouts with MLB teams. Before that, Tebow — a decorated college quarterback at Florida and Denver Broncos first-round NFL draft selection — hadn't played organized baseball since his junior year of high school. That year, he hit .449 and was an all-state selection, helping Ponte Vedra Nease High School reach the final four of the Class 6A playoffs and earning interest from the Los Angeles Angels.

Will Vragovic | Times

St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow connects for a thre-run home run in the seventh inning against the Charlotte Stone Crabs on July 29.

Will Vragovic | Times

St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow connects for a thre-run home run in the seventh inning against the Charlotte Stone Crabs on July 29.

Aug. 10, 2016: Tebow's open tryout attracts scouts from 28 major-league clubs.

Sept. 8, 2016: Tebow signs a minor-league contract with the New York Mets. After being assigned to the Mets' instructional league, where he homers in his first at-bat, he spends the offseason with the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League, putting up a .194/.296/.242 line.

April 7: Tebow's minor-league career begins in South Carolina with the low-A Columbia Fireflies, where he again hits a home run in his first at-bat. In 244 plate appearances in 64 games, he posts a line of .220/.311/.336.

June 25: Tebow is called up to St. Lucie, the Mets' advanced-A club in the Florida State League. Tebow's call-up given his relative lack of production in Columbia prompts questions about whether it is purely for financial purposes — particularly as the New York Mets own their St. Lucie affiliate but not the Fireflies — but Mets GM Sandy Alderson cites his "on-base perecentage, his isolated power, his swing, exit velocity," as reasons for the call-up. Tebow, who homers on first day with team, notches a base hit in 12 consecutive games on his way to a .272/.352/.465 line with five homers and 21 RBIs.

Notable: After his call-up to St. Lucie, betting company Bovada lists odds for Tebow's promotion to Double A, Triple A and the majors. He is listed at 4/1 to make a Double-A plate appearance, 6/1 for Triple-A and 15/1 to make a plate appearance in MLB.

When Tebow and the Columbia Fireflies visited the Charleston RiverDogs in June, the home team drew criticism for playing the Hallelujah Chorus as Tebow's walk-up music and introducing all other Fireflies players as "Not Tim Tebow," with general manager Dave Echols later apologizing. Timberlake, whose team will be holding a Tebow's 30th birthday party promotion on Aug. 14, said he believes his club can have fun without disrespecting Tebow.

"We will treat Tim Tebow and the St. Lucie Mets with the utmost respect," Timberlake said. "Certainly there have been some things that have happened in minor-league baseball this season where there's been some kind of mocking of him, but that's certainly not our posture whatsoever. In terms of what we do with PA, video and in-game entertainment, he'll be treated like any other player, but we are going to have some fun with it.

"The first night we play the Mets, Monday the 14th, is Tim's 30th birthday. … We plan to have fans sing happy birthday to him as part of the seventh-inning stretch. That's unusual, it's not something we would normally do, but it's an unusual circumstance and a chance to have some fun."

Will Vragovic | Times

Fans react after the three-run home run by St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow in the seventh inning of a game vs. the Charlotte Stone Crabs on July 29.

Will Vragovic | Times

Fans react after the three-run home run by St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow in the seventh inning of a game vs. the Charlotte Stone Crabs on July 29.

Tebow's popularity has led to a fan contingent that has seen him play at multiple road locations. One of those fans is Megan Begier, who says Tebow's personality is what sets him apart.

"He's super nice," Begier said. "He signs all the stuff he can get to and he's just really great. He focuses on baseball when he's out with his teammates and then when they're off the field he'll sign everything. For me it's not about his skill in baseball or football, he's just a stellar guy."

While he may hope a certain amount of focus remains on the Threshers, Timberlake said he sees the overall impact of the visit as a great positive for his team.

"We're excited about it, I can tell you that," Timberlake said. "We expect that the atmosphere will be pretty electric, especially when he comes to bat."