PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.—New York Mets outfielder Tim Tebow, on his second day as a professional baseball player, was greeted Tuesday with a strange phenomenon.
Real, honest-to-goodness, normalcy.
There wasn’t a news helicopter hovering overhead this day during the Mets’ practice. There were no urgent TV news reports or people shrieking when spotted Monday night at the local Target buying flavored bottle water and almonds.
There were about 250 fans Tuesday, less than half of the 577 that showed up for his instructional league debut Monday, with a lot of late arrivals simply to get their baseballs, jerseys and Florida football helmets autographed.
The number of credentialed media members was also reduced by more than half to 30 reporters, with a press conference that lasted only 11 minutes.
Why, even when he hit his first professional home run in batting practice, at 11:58 a.m. for those Tebow historians, there wasn’t a single cheer.
"Whether there are five people or 500 people,’’ Tebow said, “you can’t let that bother you. The size of the crowd. Or what people are saying. The hype or no hype.
“I just try not to get involved at all, and try not to pay attention, and just focus on being a baseball player.’’
Tebow actually looked more like a real baseball player, too, taking instructions, getting to know the coaches, and, yes, even looking like a slugger with three impressive batting practice rounds. He looked much more relaxed, and instead of hitting numerous pop-ups like day one, was hitting deep fly balls and line drives, culminating with a homer on his second-to-last swing over the right-field fence.
“It felt a little more comfortable,’’ Tebow said, “with a day under my belt. Just getting used to everything, the preparations, just all of those silly things that you have to go through. Getting into the building. Finding everything that you need. The cafeteria. Just getting used to the routine of everything.
"So it was easier when I came out here today. I felt it went well, and felt like I did a little bit better.’’
Still, it wasn’t as if he just fit into the crowd, not when you’re 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, with a Heisman Trophy and two national championships on your resume, and moonlighting as an SEC analyst on the weekends, working the Auburn-LSU game on Saturday.
Why, except for a Noah Syndergaard jersey, the only other Mets’ jerseys fans wore Tuesday were Tebow jerseys, fresh off the rack, where the Mets even had a Tebow tent of merchandise.
The No. 1 seller on MLB’s website Tuesday was Tebow men’s jerseys at $119.99. The second biggest was Tebow replica T-shirts at $29.99. Third was the Chicago Cubs’ NL Central champion T-shirts.
When Tebow’s press conference ended, there were actually a couple of reporters getting selfies and autographs from Tebow.
Otherwise, this was the first day of what Tebow’s baseball life will resemble for the duration of the instructional league, with 1 ½ more weeks of practice, before six games that will start in two weeks. Tebow will be playing in them, with the stands filled with more than just family members and scouts, with press conferences following each game.
And yes, he’ll be the only one having press conferences, and asked questions outside the boundaries of baseball.
He was asked by one reporter, with a straight face: “If it doesn’t work out with the Mets, are you going to be trying out for the New York Knickerbockers or New York Rangers?"
“We don’t need to be answering hypotheticals right now,’’ Tebow said. “I get to go practice and play tomorrow. So I’m going to do the best I can at that.’’
So that’s a no, we’re presuming.
Tebow also was asked his opinion on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s stance, who kneels in silent protest during the national anthem. He prefers to keep his thoughts privately.
“I think there’s a lot of people who have thoughts out there,’’ Tebow said, “and for now, I’m just going to keep mine to myself about it. I mean, I think that when people have belief in something, or conviction about something, trying to stand for that, is a good thing.
“And then it’s all about trying to stand for it the right way.’’
In the meantime, Tebow just wants to be a ballplayer during the week, and an analyst during the weekend, while pursuing the dream no one is giving him a chance to achieve.
He’s not going to try to emulate the swings of the sluggers he grew up watching, reeling off the names of Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones and Jeff Bagwell, but plans to be a sponge, soaking in as much information as possible, giving him every chance to make it.
“I think it’s cool,’’ said Mets starter Steven Matz, who spent two days in camp with Tebow before leaving Tuesday afternoon for a scheduled bullpen session Wednesday in New York, and a potential Friday night against the Philadelphia Phillies. “He’s a hard worker. Just another player, and you can tell that’s all he wants to be.
“He’s just here to work hard, and see if he can make the big leagues.’’
Really, that’s all Tebow is asking.
“You want every one of those guys to know that I’m just going out there trying to perform, get better, and learn the system,’’ Tebow said, “just like they are. When you get to know each other, hopefully, that’s what they find out about me.
“I’m here to put in the work.’’
We’ll find out in time, perhaps much, much time, whether it will be enough.