Tebowmania is coming to Columbia.
The former Heisman trophy winner will begin his minor league career with the Columbia Fireflies, the Class A affiliate of the New York Mets.
“Tim Tebow will bring major excitement and national attention to the Fireflies and city of Columbia,” Fireflies president John Katz said. “We expect this to add to the energy at Spirit Communications Park and around downtown Columbia, especially during our opening weekend.”
Columbia opens the season April 6 at home against Augusta in a four-game series. This year’s team will head to Columbia on April 1 with a fan fest set for the following day.
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Katz was confident last month that Tebow would begin his career with the club and t sent out a tweet in August with Tebow in a Fieflies’ jersey when it was announced was considering playing baseball.
“I think it is really exciting. These things don’t happen too often,” Katz said. “You don’t get athletes that have a broad appeal from some many demographics. So much about Tim Tebow is that is appealing to folks. You got an athlete to have success at so many different levels. For him to be able to go out and chase his dreams playing minor league is amazing.”
Katz is at the Mets’ spring training facility in Port St. Lucie, Florida, this week and plans to meet with Tebow likely tomorrow. He said the Fireflies will begin to incorporate Tebow in the marketing plans for the upcoming season.
Katz said how long Tebow’s stay will last will depend how comfortable the Mets’ organization is with his progress.
The announcement of Tebow’s coming is sure to spike up ticket sales, which Katz said were trending upward from last year’s inaugural season. The club also will be hosting the South Atlantic League All-Star game this season.
Tebow will wear his No. 15 jersey he wore as quarterback at Florida and in the NFL when he steps on the field for the Fireflies.
Tebow signed with the Mets on Sept. 8 to a mix of skepticism in the baseball industry. He hadn’t played organized baseball since his junior of high school
Tebow participated in three Florida Instructional League games in the fall, hitting a home run in his first at-bat. The 29-year-old finished 4-for-14 in those three games with two walks. He played in 19 contests in the Arizona Fall League and hit .194 two RBI.
Tebow has rotated between working with the minor leaguers and Mets’ big league club this spring. He has appeared in seven spring training games for the Mets and was the starting right fielder against the Detroit Tigers on Monday.
Heading into Monday’s game, Tebow was hitting .235.
“No one works harder than Tim did this spring,” Mets manager Terry Collins told Newsday on Monday. “He was a pleasure to have around. What he wants is to improve. I’m sure he’ll be a great influence on the kids in Columbia and the fans will enjoy watching him play.”
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told Newsday he has been impressed with Tebow’s improvement with the fall until now. He also squashed the notion Tebow would be taking the spot of another prospect in the organization or is being used as a publicity stunt.
“The fact that he’s starting at Columbia, he’s really not taking anybody’s spot. By the way, we have lots of players in our organization who are just that: organizational players,” Alderson said. “Not every player that we have is a top prospect, whose opportunity is being curtailed by Tim Tebow or anybody else.”
Tebow was standout quarterback at Florida and was the SEC’s all-time leader in touchdowns with 145 when he graduated. He was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 25th pick in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Tebow started 11 games for the Broncos in 2011 and led Denver to an AFC West Division title and a playoff victory. He also played for the Jets and Patriots during his NFL career.
After his football career ended, Tebow has worked with the SEC Network and his foundation.