Hearing Tim Tebow speak, it’s easy to understand why he continues to command a loyal fan following years after the prime of his football career.
The 29-year-old Columbia Fireflies left fielder, standing 6-foot-3, cuts an impressive, athletic figure and projects a genuine, relatable personality. He claims no professional ambition other than to live in and enjoy the moment and see where it leads.
“For me, it’s about processing everything, enjoying it, loving it, making the most of every opportunity, so when you’re 50 years old and telling your kids about everything you got to experience, it’s fun. I want to live every moment,” Tebow said at a pre-game news conference at Whitaker Bank Ballpark ahead of Thursday’s game against the Lexington Legends. “To be able to do so many cool things: play pro football, play pro baseball, the journeys, everything. It’s about being able to really take it all in and enjoy the entire process.”
Tebow, a .230 hitter with three home runs on the season, walked, grounded out to third and struck out twice in his four at-bats Thursday in front of a good crowd announced at 7,590. His Fireflies won 3-2 and his diving catch of a liner ended the game.
Fans still have three more chances to catch Tebow as the Fireflies are in town for four games in Lexington.
His critics might not appreciate the homespun appeal. A few hecklers in the crowd would jeer him as he ran to his outfield position and derisively call him “Timmy��� as he stepped to the plate. But to his fans, he’s an example of a good person who accomplished some great things on the football field and someone who continues to inspire.
“It’s exciting to see all these people come out and rally behind him,” said Beckey Johnson of Nicholasville, who brought her 13-year-old son Elijah to the game. “He has a good message and that’s what it’s all about.”
Johnson’s parents are from upstate New York, which explained the mother and son’s Mets gear. The Fireflies are a Mets affiliate. And she held a Tebow New York Jets jersey, also being a fan of the team where Tebow spent one season as a backup quarterback in 2012. But while Elijah might have been a little young to remember Tebow’s exploits as a college football player, the Kentucky football fan in him said he remembers Tebow as a Florida Gator.
“I have a book of his,” Elijah said. “And I’ve watched plenty of games of him when I was younger basically destroying the Cats, unfortunately. … I forgive him, now.”
Randy Stone of Winchester wore a Tebow Denver Broncos jersey and brought his sons Andrew, 21, and Elijah, 15. They both wore Broncos hats as they waited for a glimpse of Tebow behind the visitors’ dugout.
“I just like that he’s a great role model for my kids, for my boys here,” Randy Stone said. “I like what he stands for. I believe in his Christian beliefs. He catches flak over it, but he stands strong and he’s genuine. And you can see it in his heart.”
While he’s a novelty to every city he visits in the South Atlantic League, Tebow said he’s just trying to be one of the guys on the team and his teammates have been accepting.
“Like today, we had to go find lunch somewhere. So, we went to the mall and went to Chipotle,” Tebow said. “They were helpful. A couple of guys were on this side and (the other) side trying to hide (me) as we went to get some food. They’re awesome. We have fun together.”
Tebow said he’s set no timetable on his baseball career. He hadn’t picked up a bat since high school before he decided to embark on this new adventure, so the learning curve from novice to minor league player has been steep.
“I think I do enjoy every step of the way,” Tebow said. “You’ll get so many questions about the bus rides and everything. Last night, coming here, it was like six or seven hours, and it was no problem. We watched ‘Miracle’ on the bus and just had a good time. … I think you can appreciate the grind. It is a grind more with time management: how long you’re at a baseball field or the travel time more so than necessarily the on the field. You love the game. That’s easy. That’s no problem. …
“It’s not that much of a grind, you know, compared to what a lot of people around the world are having to deal with.”
Columbia Fireflies at Lexington Legends
When: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WLXG-AM 1300