Tim Tebow was not yet done rounding the bases after his latest implausible act – a home run in his first professional at-bat! – when the hype machine that greets his every movement churned into high gear.
Once again, the moment found Tebow – or was it vice versa? - and the news rippled from the aisles of Spirit Communications Park, where many of the 8,412 fans on hand dutifully recorded his two-run homer off Domenic Mazza.
By the time the night was over, the glorious moment lost some sheen, dulled by nearly four hours of Class A baseball and Tebow’s three strikeouts in his four subsequent at-bats.
Yes, going from Heisman Trophy winner to NFL QB to network analyst to right fielder, Columbia Fireflies, remains a monumental challenge.
And so while the proverbial Internet was once again melting down over the man it can’t get enough of, the man himself was working overtime to maintain a philosophical approach.
“I know so many people want to sensationalize it,” says Tebow, and credit the man for knowing his audience. “But for me, it was just one day. One opportunity – the first of a lot of games.
“It’s never as good as it seems. It’s never as bad as it seems, right? You can go from a first at-bat home run to striking out. Don’t get caught up in the little things, the things people are saying when I leave here, and social media, or whatever y’all write – no offense, but I won’t read it!”
It will be written anyway, of course, and consumed by the masses who cannot get enough of Tebow since his days winning a pair of national championships at the University of Florida.
His acolytes strolled merrily through the 360-degree concourse at this 2-year-old ballpark. Fireflies jerseys with Tebow’s fluorescent No. 15 dotted the crowd. Many donned Florida Gators gear while others sported his No. 15 jersey from his fleeting run of success with the Denver Broncos.
Kyle Grier was one of those. The 26-year-old Columbia resident fell in love with the Broncos growing up in Iowa.
Sure, Tebow’s home run Thursday wasn’t on the same athletic level as his 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas to win an overtime playoff game against the Steelers.
But it was exactly the same from the “That’s So Tebow” standpoint.
“That was insane,” Grier said as another Tebow at-bat approached. “Giving people what they want, I guess.
“To hit a home run in his first at-bat, that’s a total Tebow move. He may not hit one the rest of the year – but he hits one in his first at-bat.
“Whatever they’re showing on ESPN, they probably stopped it to show the home run.”
Indeed, Tebow’s other employers – he works for their SEC Network in the autumn – couldn’t get him on the air fast enough postgame.
But it’s clear Tebow is cherishing the team moments of this journey. It began after the New York Mets signed him following a tryout last August and sent him to the instructional leagues. A homerless stint in the Arizona Fall League preceded five weeks of spring training.
Many of these Fireflies know each other fairly well now, and uproarious shouts and laughter could be heard in a room adjacent to the clubhouse after the 14-7 victory .
The good vibes started after Tebow rounded the bases and returned to the dugout, giving his team a 2-0 lead, its first of the year.
“Everybody was so excited and happy for me,” Tebow said. “One of the guys comes up and gives me a big hug and says, ‘This is one of the best moments I’ve ever had!’ It was just fun.”
Indeed, Tebow’s need for competition and camaraderie seem real, despite whatever brand-building element cynics may ascribe to his baseball experiment. He eagerly reeled off the names of teammates and staffers – Paez and Dash and Ali, Fuentes and “Coach Leger,” as he called manager Jose Leger, as if he were Urban Meyer.
Leger offered a defense of Tebow’s strikeouts, gently noting that South Atlantic League umpires are often younger than the players and learning themselves. Strike zones can be inconsistent, adding another variable to Tebow’s already challenging learning curve.
But the greater lesson of Game 1 is that one at-bat leads to another, and one game to the next. There will be about 135 more, long bus rides in between many of them.
Tebow loves that there will be a game every day. He’s also self-aware.
“It’s something I learned early on at the University of Florida – I’m very emotional, passionate,” he said. “I care a lot about every single thing that I do.
“And so for me, I gotta harness that in the right way, and that’s having my boundaries and my guidelines, blocking everything else out and go to work and do what I love.”
The plan worked brilliantly for one game. Another awaits Friday.