PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Tim Tebow is ready for the next step in his baseball career, but still realizes he’s a long way from the big leagues.
In fact, even as he ascends from low Class A to the New York Mets’ highest A-ball affiliate, he won’t allow himself to think or dream that far ahead.
“It’s not something I focus on. It’s not something I think about,” Tebow said Tuesday afternoon, hours before he scheduled debut with the Port St. Lucie Mets in a Florida State League game against the Palm Beach Cardinals. That game was rained out, putting off Tebow's debut with his new team.
“It’s a great question because that would be a great headline. But it’s not something I focus on. Although you root for the Mets and I’ll watch their games and got to be friends with a lot of guys on their team, I’m playing for the St. Lucie Mets right now and that’s where my focus has to be.”
Tebow the minor leaguer gained immediate renown when he homered in his first at-bat for the Columbia Fireflies. The remainder of his stint in South Carolina wasn’t so electric.
He batted .220 with a .311 on-base percentage and three home runs, and struck out 69 times in 214 at-bats with the Fireflies.
Now, he goes up a level, but in familiar territory - as he served a stint in instructional league here last September, along with spring training with the Mets. Those appearances drew numerous supporters from his days as a Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion for the University of Florida.
“I think it feels good. I’m thankful for the opportunity,” Tebow said. “It’s always good to be in Florida. It’s close to home and playing with a lot of guys I played in spring with. Looking forward to this opportunity starting tonight and just try to make the most of it. Also understanding I have a long way to go and just try to get a little better every day and keep working on the process.”
Tebow was a major draw at the box office for the Fireflies – and the rest of the South Atlantic League – and should have a similar impact in Florida.
Within 18 hours of Tebow’s promotion announcement, the St. Lucie Mets sold approximately 500 tickets online and the club had more than 35 media requests for Tuesday’s news conference and game.
The crowds should be adoring, but the competition will be stiffer - one level up, and in a league with large ballparks that typically favors pitchers.
"I think there will be the same challenges, just slightly magnified,” Tebow said. “Continuing to work on things I’m working on, try to improve every single day and I think pitching will be slightly better. Continue to try to adjust and get better every day and remember it’s not just about the result of each day; it’s about the improvement and continuing to focus on that."
Tebow, 29, said he’s better at identifying pitches and getting a good jump on the base paths, but admits he still has a long way to go.
But what else was there to expect from the football player who signed a minor league contract with the Mets less than 10 months ago?
"It's been a little bit of a whirlwind in less than a year of doing this and playing baseball,” Tebow said. “At the same time I’m not really someone who stops to think about the what-ifs or what happened. I'm someone who really tries to compartmentalize everything and focus on the task at hand and the day to day.
"It's kind of just to focus on the next thing."
Joe Santucci, USA Today Sports