Like many people affiliated with the New York Mets organization, John Katz had his eyes on Tim Tebow’s spring training debut Wednesday.
The Columbia Fireflies president watched a couple of Tebow’s at-bats against the Boston Red Sox. The former Heisman Trophy winner, who is making the switch from football to baseball, went 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in his first game.
“You can see the differences in his swing from instructional league,” Katz said. “I think he has made great strides.”
The Mets plan to play Tebow, who hit .194 in the Arizona Fall League, in a split-squad spring training game Friday. And with 11 players leaving to play in the World Baseball Classic, there is a chance he can play a couple of more split-squad games next week.
After that, Katz and the Fireflies will be in wait-and-see mode to see if the Mets send their most recognizable prospect to Columbia, which begins the season at home against Augusta on April 6.
Katz is “cautiously optimistic” Tebow will begin his professional career in the Midlands. The only other logical starting point would be in Port St. Lucie, Fla., with the team’s high Class A team.
Typically, minor league teams don’t finalize their rosters until a week before the start of the season. But Katz, who is going to spring training March 19, hopes the Mets will give him a little advance notice if Tebow will be here.
“We are prepared for it,” Katz said. “We know if we want to do a certain amount of things we need notice. He may or may not be here, but if the stars are in our favor like I feel they are, then we will be ready.”
Katz said the Fireflies would have to do a few different things to handle the extra media attention Tebow brings. ESPN sent a crew to Florida to cover his first days in instructional league and when he reported to spring training.
But this won’t be the first time Katz has had to deal with a high profile player in the minor leagues. He worked with the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, N.C., when NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan came through during his brief stint in the minor leagues.
Katz said Tebow’s arrival definitely would be “good for business” as far as putting fans in the seats and building on the success of the first season. The club drew 261,134 fans and Spirit Communications Park was named Ballpark of the Year by Ballpark Digest. The team has big plans in year two with hosting the South Atlantic League All-Star Game and hosting the Eclipse Game on Aug. 21 among its big promotions for the year.
Plus, Katz said Tebow would be a good role model for the rest of the players, who typically range between 19-23 years old.
“You’ve got 19-23 year old kids and here is a guy who has won a Heisman and two national titles. And he does things with great humility that other players can see,” Katz said. “So, I don’t want to sound too cliché’ but I think it would be a home run when you put it all together.”