COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tim Tebow is moving up and heading south — to some very familiar territory.
Tebow has been promoted to the New York Mets‘ high Class A affiliate in St. Lucie, Florida. The 29-year-old Tebow led the University of Florida to two national championships and won the 2007 Heisman Trophy during his stellar football career with the Gators.
Baseball has not been as easy for the 29-year-old outfielder. He hit just .220 with three homers and 23 RBIs with Class A Columbia — numbers that usually don’t lead to a promotion.
"For me, it’s not something I have to answer," Tebow said. "There’s a lot smarter, wiser people than me that make those decisions. I just try and show up and play hard every day."
General manager Sandy Alderson announced the move before the Mets’ 8-2 win at San Francisco on Sunday. He said Tebow’s performance had trended positively the past two or three weeks and the Mets thought it was a good time for his promotion.
"Clearly, it’s a step up," Alderson said. "I certainly think he can handle it."
Tebow was a smash hit with fans the past three months in the South Atlantic League. The Fireflies were second in the league with an average attendance of 5,230 heading into Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Kannapolis, and Tebow’s presence led to sellouts and big crowds at nearly every road stop.
Tebow got a loud ovation when he came to the plate for the first time Sunday with the bases loaded in the first inning. He then hit a hot shot right at the first baseman to end the inning. He went 0 for 2 with a walk.
Next up is a more challenging level. Still, he’s happy to be headed back to the Sunshine State, where he still has family, friends and many, many supporters in Gator colours.
"I obviously love Florida so this is nice," he said with a grin. "But the goal and focus is improving as a baseball player."
Tebow’s first pro baseball stop had a storybook start with a home run in his first at-bat. He added another homer three games later, but he has been mostly inconsistent at the plate.
That’s baseball, Tebow said. He went 0 for 3 during Saturday’s win over Kannapolis, but drove in two runs.
"I know that my progress has led me to having three good at-bats, to bring in two guys," he said. "As an athlete you can’t worry about those things. You have to focus on, ‘Am I seeing the pitches? What am I doing with them? Am I doing damage with them?"’
Tebow certainly looked comfortable in the Fireflies’ clubhouse, despite being a decade older than several of his teammates.
"We’ve said he’s just one of 25 guys," Columbia president John Katz said. "At the end of the day, he really is. He wants to succeed. He puts in the work and hopefully, he’ll have continued success at a higher level."
That’s Alderson’s wish, too, as Tebow continues a journey that he hopes ends at Citi Field in New York.
"I wouldn’t say he has excelled" at Columbia, Alderson said. "But at the same time, what he’s done there — given all the circumstances — justified the promotion."