Tim Tebow may have the fame, but he says he isn’t above the long bus trips of the minor league lifestyle.
(DANIEL POPPER/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
LAKEWOOD, N.J. – The most famous man in the South Atlantic League is getting used to ground transportation all over again.
Not that riding the bus is foreign to Tim Tebow, the former Heisman-winning quarterback who shocked the sporting world in August when he announced his plans to pursue a professional baseball career despite last playing in high school. He says he’s encountered worse travel conditions during mission trips to the Philippines and other developing countries.
But the charter buses of low minor league baseball are a far cry from the private planes of the NFL, where Tebow played three seasons for the Broncos and Jets.
Tebow signed with the Mets in September. He’s spent the first month of this season playing for the franchise’s Class-A affiliate, the Columbia Fireflies, who trekked 700 miles north for a series this weekend at the Lakewood Blue Claws in New Jersey. It’s their farthest trip of the season.
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“I bought a nice little mattress I could try to slide on the floor on the bus,” Tebow said with a smile Sunday before going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the Fireflies’ 5-3 Mother’s Day victory over Lakewood. “And so that helped a little bit.”
Naturally, Tebow is an avid sharer of his sleeping equipment.
“He barely uses it,” Columbia third baseman Michael Paez said.
The Fireflies first stopped in Salisbury, Md., on Wednesday for the start of a four-game set at Delmarva Shorebirds. The trip to Maryland took eight hours from Columbia, S.C. Then, after their Friday doubleheader was rained out, the Fireflies and Tebow drove another 3.5 hours to Lakewood.
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“It’s a grind for sure,” said Fireflies catcher Brandon Brosher, who crushed a mammoth home run to left-center field in the fourth inning Sunday. “There’s no glam in the bus trip.”
It’s all part of the acclimation process for Tebow, who’s embraced his new reality as a low-level prospect about as well as you could expect from a global icon.
“I definitely don’t feel above that at all,” Tebow, 29, said of the bus rides.
Brosher admitted he was “skeptical” when he first learned Tebow would be joining the Fireflies. But Tebow has earned the respect of his teammates the only way he knows how: working his tail off and offering unrelenting positivity.
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“He does everything the right way,” Brosher said. “He’s definitely one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. And I really respect what he’s doing.”
“He’s the first one to pick us up and let us know we have so much to look forward to in the game and even in life,” added Paez, who also homered Sunday. “He’s a great influence to have in there.”
Tebow exceeding expectations at the plate has certainly aided his cause.
Even after Sunday afternoon’s poor showing before a slew of Mets fans and Tebow disciples, the ex-Florida star is hitting .243 with two homers and 11 RBI in 29 games this season.
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He’s batting .259 in May, and the improvement this month has prompted reports of a potential promotion.
To no one’s surprise, Tebow isn’t publicly worried about those rumors.
“I’m just focused on this game today and facing a lefty that we faced last time and trying to be on rhythm timing with him and have a good approach, quality at-bats,” Tebow said before the game. “That’s my focus. Nothing else.”
The stands in Lakewood were littered with No. 15 Tebow jerseys Sunday — Broncos, University of Florida, Mets and even Eagles, where he spent training camp in 2015 before being cut.
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Tebow was serenaded with loud cheers all three times he stepped to the plate.
“I just look up to him,” said Point Pleasant native Matt Kimak, who held a copy of Tebow’s first book, ‘Through My Eyes,’ in his hands. “My work ethic and the way I live is just based off of everything that I’ve read about him or heard about him. …He’s just the perfect role model.”
The Fireflies will play a doubleheader at Lakewood on Monday before embarking on the 12-hour drive home to Columbia — no stops this time.
Tebow will nestle into his mattress and endure the journey alongside his teammates, slogging through the grind, the same way all minor leaguers who came before him did.
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He may have a New York Times bestseller. He may be the most recognizable minor-league baseball player in the nation. He may have a past full of publicity and fame.
But now, he’s just another player pursuing his dream.
“If you get to know him, he’s not one of those hot-shot celebrities that can’t deal with it,” Paez said. “He’s doing it because he wants to make it to the big leagues, and he knows that this is the first step.”