Tim Tebow Creates Unique Minor League Experience
It was widely considered a publicity stunt when Tim Tebow first decided to pursue a professional baseball career. Most were skeptical, yet some figured his athletic abilities would translate well onto the diamond.
The former Heisman trophy winner and NFL quarterback was first signed to a minor-league contract by the New York Mets in September of 2016. He was later assigned to the Columbia Fireflies in 2017, where he hit just .220 in 214 at-bats scattered through 64 games. Tebow finished his first season with Columbia, which was a step up from his time with the St. Lucie Mets, the Rookie level affiliate of the franchise.
It’s important to note how much of an impact he had in St. Lucie, though. Attendance was, and still is, huge when Tebow shows up to the park. When the celebrity went to Kissimmee, Florida to play the Fire Frogs, the average attendance for their 4-game series was 18,000. To put that into perspective, their average turnout was about 4,000 fans.
Multiple teams set records for attendance, and there’s good reason for it. Tebow has done an impeccable job of keeping his public image flawless. He’s a down-to-earth guy, he signs autographs, loves fans, and loves the minor league experience – all traits that factor into his likability.
Now promoted to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies of the Eastern League (AA), not much has changed. The parks he visits are still packed nightly. For example, the Erie SeaWolves averaged an attendance of 3,223 for Tebow’s games there, and 1,444 in all other matchups. Out in Akron, average attendance for the RubberDucks is about 3,318, a lower figure than the 3,841 during Binghamton’s three-game visit.
On the contrary, some people believe that the “Tebow effect” is wearing off. Binghamton’s average attendance so far is down 34.3% from last year, but team sales manager Steve Popoloski believes the low numbers are nothing more than the crazy New York spring weather.
“You look at how many days we’ve had that you would say, ‘Boy, it’s a nice day out, let me go watch some baseball. There’s been very few.”
With the end-all goal of becoming a power hitter for the Mets, Tebow is continuing to develop his game. In 26 games, he’s hit .244 with three home runs and 12 RBI. Binghamton visited the Hartford Yard Goats this week, and the games have been packed so far.
In their three matchups, Tebow recorded two hits in seven at-bats with a walk. On Monday, the Rumble Ponies took the contest 2-1, and Hartford evened it up with a 7-9 win the following day. The Yard Goats took the series with a 7-3 win on Wednesday. Tebow struck out in his only at-bat, a pinch-hit assignment, in the series finale.
Putting the actual results aside, it’s safe to call the games a success for Hartford.
The Goats have one of the highest turnouts in all of minor league baseball, with 4,500 being their average for home games. With a ballpark maximum of 6,000 (6,800 including standing room), every game with Tebow has been a near sellout. The one downside for the club is that they are not permitted to sell any of the 30-year old outfielder’s gear, which has proved a hot commodity whenever available.
As the season goes on, the sellouts at opposing parks will surely continue. It’s also safe to say the switch will be flipped regarding attendance trends at home games, factoring in the poor natural elements Binghamton has faced. Tebow is a fan favorite, and his popularity is rising rapidly as time progresses.
Whether or not he reaches the Big Leagues doesn’t matter, as Tebow still has offers for other jobs. The Alliance of American Football and the CFL have extended roster spots, or there will be a position as a television commentator if he wants to step away from both the gridiron and diamond. No matter what happens with baseball, Tebow views his time with the game as a success, and for good reason.
“To make this a success, I don’t think I have to play in the big leagues. My definition [of success] would be doing something that you love and enjoying it every day. I get to do that. So success is not how far you make it. It’s, do you enjoy it? Do you have that passion? Are you living out something that has purpose in your heart? For me, I am. Everybody will probably have their own definition, but I’m thankful that I don’t have to live by their definition.“