PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. » Tim Tebow arrived at the New York Mets’ minor league clubhouse this morning, finding an orange-and-blue jersey with No. 15 on the back swaying in his locker.
He was asked if that worked.
“Heck, yeah,” Tebow replied.
It’s the same color scheme he wore as a national champion and Heisman Trophy winner at Florida, and the same number he wore with the Gators and throughout his less-than-storied years as an NFL quarterback. And now he’s wearing it again as he tries to find a place in baseball, going through his first workout with the Mets’ instructional league squad today.
He showed some power, hitting three balls in batting practice off the chain-link fence in right-center — better than just about everyone else did. He showed some rust, popping up a half-dozen pitches in that same BP session. And he showed a need for work, after one of his throws sailed well over someone’s head and nearly onto an adjacent field during a simple game of catch.
“It was a lot of fun,” Tebow said. “It was great. It was great to be on a team. It was great to just go through a warmup and go through drills, just have fun, take BP, get to know all the guys, try to remember as many names as possible.”
Predictably, it was also a circus atmosphere.
Hundreds of fans — many wearing Tebow jerseys, some even wearing now-on-sale Mets shirts with Tebow’s name — showed up; a worker at the Mets’ complex said instructional league workouts last year drew maybe a couple dozen people, tops. A news helicopter circled over the field where Tebow worked for more than an hour. He got a huge cheer from fans for executing his first official drill, one where he learned how to take a lead off first base.
“Never been here before,” said Sarah Dale, a waitress who works an overnight shift and now says she’ll be a Mets fan. “I’m here for Tim Tebow. … He’s a people person. Everyone loves him.”
Less than a month ago, Tebow was in his native Philippines, working with special-needs and ill children — one of his longtime passions. He’s now one of 58 players on the Mets’ instructional league roster, and at 29 he’s also four years older than any other invitee. Two of the players on the roster won’t even turn 18 until next year.
Tebow’s last time playing true organized baseball was in his junior year of high school, when he batted nearly .500 for Nease High near Jacksonville, Florida. Tebow worked out for scouts in Los Angeles last month and not long afterward the Mets signed him to a deal that included a $100,000 bonus.
“A lot of people would say, ‘Well, it puts a chip on your shoulder,’” Tebow said. “I mean, I guess I have a little chip. You want to prove people right. Not really the naysayers, it’s more that I want to prove the coaches right, the Mets organization, my teammates, play with my teammates and try to be the best baseball player I can — more importantly, the best person I can.”
Tebow last appeared in an NFL regular-season game during the 2012 season. He was in camp with the New England Patriots in 2013 and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015, and started workouts with the thought of seriously trying baseball a few months ago.
He said if the Patriots — who are without Tom Brady for two more games and now have Jimmy Garoppolo dealing with an injury — or any other football team came calling, now they’d get a quick answer.
“I’m part of the Mets family,” Tebow said.
The Mets say Tebow will be part of daily workouts through Thursday. He’ll be excused Friday and Saturday for his college football analyst duties with the SEC Network, and the instructional roster has a day off Sunday.
But Tebow said he plans to work out Friday before leaving for his TV job, saying he’ll probably wind up being gone from camp for only about 24 hours. He’s serious about this pursuit, and insisted that getting to the major leagues is his goal.
“It was one of the hardest decisions of my life to choose football over baseball,” Tebow said. “There were a lot of times at Florida where I thought about going out and starting baseball. And then over the course of the last few years it’s something I’ve thought about a bunch.
“My first sporting activity, I played for the White Sox at Normandy Baseball Park. I didn’t want to put down a bat since.”
The bat — a 34½-inch, 33-ounce maple one, to be precise — is back in his hands again.