Tebow Mania has arrived in Columbia, South Carolina, home of the Mets’ Class-A team, where Tim Tebow debuts Thursday against Augusta in the South Atlantic League.
“This is crazy,” said Columbia Fireflies manager Jose Leger, sounding excited about his new outfielder. “This is just absolutely mad here.”
A sellout of more than 9,000 is expected at Spirit Communications Park to see the former college and NFL quarterback. The 29-year-old helped draw nearly 4,000 fans to last weekend’s team fan fest.
Well chronicled is Tebow’s .148 (4-for-27) Grapefruit League average with the Mets last month.
“At the same time he gives you an idea of how far he is,” Leger said. “And I’ll tell you one thing, he’s not that far. I think he’s going to be all right.
“I’ve seen progress already out of the guy. In spring training when I first saw him, I was like, ‘We’ve got work to do.’ By the time we broke camp, I’m like, ‘Man, he’s getting it. He’s getting better.’ So that’s already ground that we’ve gained. And I think it’s not going to stop.”
Leger said Tebow already has improved at staying inside pitches, cutting down on pulling balls foul. Defensively, he’s better retreating on balls hit over his head.
In terms of baseball knowledge and learning quickly, “I think he’s more advanced than I expected,” Leger added. “He’s been working hard and getting better by the hour.”
Echoing Tebow observers in spring training and the Arizona Fall League, “He’s got a lot of power,” Leger said. “You watch him hit in BP, he hits the ball a long ways. If he’s able to put the ball in play, he has a chance to hit some home runs.
“And you put that with his athletic abilities, never know, you might have a player here.”
With much of the curiosity and hype over, now it’s time for Tebow to deliver on the diamond.
“The numbers are not going to lie,” Leger said. “But at the same time, our eyes are not going to lie either. We know if his approach, if his at-bats are quality, we’ll know all this.
“And if we accomplish this, if we can get him to have quality at-bats, if he can be solid in the outfield, then the organization probably will kind of challenge him to go to the next level.”