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Tebow hits St. Lucie, the next step of his journey

By Tim Reynolds

AP Sports Writer

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — Tim Tebow knows he can still improve on everything.

Given his numbers, that’s obvious.

If he’s the world’s most popular minor league .220 hitter, that’s just fine with the new left fielder for the St. Lucie Mets. Called up to the New York Mets’ advanced Class A affiliate in the Florida State League earlier this week, Tebow was supposed to bat eighth and debut with his new club Tuesday.

First, though, an unplanned day off: The game was postponed after a deluge hit just before the scheduled first pitch. A doubleheader was set for Wednesday.

For St. Lucie, Tebowmania will wait another day.

“We’re all as eager as anyone else is to see what the overall impact is going to be,” St. Lucie general manager Traer Van Allen said.

Tebow went through batting practice — under bright sun, incidentally — and shook hands on the field with some of his new teammates.

He said he isn’t looking ahead, and for now remains just focused on the process of getting better.

“It’s a scary place to get caught up in, the ‘where’s this going to lead,’ ‘what’s going to happen to my future,’ ‘what is the next day,’” Tebow said. “I get today. Tomorrow’s not promised. I’m going to make the most of today.

“And that sounds cliche, but gosh, I hope when you look at my life 10, 20, 30 years from now, you can see somebody that they really took advantage of that day.”

Getting promoted with his numbers is not typical.

Then again, nothing about Tebow ever seems typical.

Port St. Lucie was where this baseball odyssey began for Tebow last fall, when the Mets brought the former University of Florida football hero and NFL quarterback — who is now a college analyst for ESPN — in for camp. He went to the Arizona Fall League, came back to Port St. Lucie for spring training, and then was off to play for the Columbia Fireflies in the lower-level South Atlantic League to start this season.

Tebow batted .220 in his 64 games with Columbia. He had three home runs — two in his first three games — and 23 RBIs. Some of his numbers were simply bad: He hit .121 when behind in the count, .136 against left-handers, .161 with runners in scoring position and .165 in road ballparks that often were far less than welcoming.

Now, he’s moving up to a league where the pitching is markedly better.

He’s not discouraged.

“I still feel like I’m extremely new,” the 29-year-old Tebow said.

He is a marketing dream anywhere, particularly Florida. He’s in orange and blue again and wearing No. 15 — just as he did when he was a national title-winning, Heisman Trophy-hoisting quarterback for the Gators. A shirt with his name and number was already for sale on the St. Lucie team website early Tuesday.

“We tried to get a lot of things ready ahead of time, expecting he could come to St. Lucie at some point,” Van Allen said.

Cheryl Arcadi’s home is just outside of West Palm Beach, or about 45 minutes by car from Port St. Lucie. She was planning to attend a St. Lucie Mets game for the first time on Tuesday.

“I didn’t know they had a summer team until I heard it on the news on Sunday night. I thought they were just there for preseason,” said Arcadi, who bought six tickets for family and friends and was even planning to tailgate in the 98-degree late-afternoon heat, before storms rolled into the area. “We’re Gators. We’re a Gator football family. We had to come see this. Tim Tebow has earned our support in whatever he does.”

For Tebow’s debut, team officials were expecting around 5,000 fans. More workers were brought in to handle what would have been a much-bigger-than-usual crowd.

“There’ll be people cheering your name in the first inning,” Tebow said. “But wait until they have a couple drinks in the seventh inning, they might be booing you. And guess what? I’ve had a lot of both.”

Root for him, root against him, Tebow doesn’t mind.

He views baseball as another platform to inspire people, and he’s gotten them to turn out in droves — in the minor league sense, anyway.

Columbia’s average home attendance for Tebow games was 5,308, a 40 percent increase over what the Fireflies averaged a year ago. St. Lucie came into Tuesday averaging 1,745 fans per game, fifth-best in the FSL. The team’s most recent home game on Sunday had an attendance of 789.

All that is about to change.

The big league Mets were playing two hours south in Miami on Tuesday night. It’s a short drive, but Tebow knows he’s a long way from the majors.

“That would be a great headline,” Tebow said. “But it’s not something that I focus on.”

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