Former Florida Gators quarterback and current St. Lucie Mets player Tim Tebow signs autographs for fans prior to a game against the Clearwater Threshers on Tuesday, August 15.
CLEARWATER – For many, Tim Tebow isn’t just a former college and pro football player or a current Minor League baseball player. He is a phenomenon, a singular personality idolized by millions of fans of all ages and a role model to men, women and children across the world.
Last week, the spectacle known as Tebowmania enveloped Spectrum Field in Clearwater, as the former University of Florida and NFL quarterback continued his quest to play Major League Baseball when his Single-A team, the St. Lucie Mets, took on the Clearwater Threshers for a four-game series beginning Monday, Aug. 14 through Thursday, Aug. 17.
The Jacksonville native’s appearance produced some of the largest attendance numbers of the season, as nearly 23,000 thousand fans poured through the gates over the four nights clad in Gators and Denver Broncos gear, waving signs and clutching photos, books, balloons and assorted Tebow memorabilia, hoping to interact with the two-sport star.
“The series was a great opportunity for people who had never been to a game at Spectrum Field to get introduced to our ballpark,” Threshers media relations assistant Rob Stretch said, noting the crowd of 8,214 on Tuesday, Aug. 15 was the second-highest total of the season. “Minor league baseball is often about the event, and always about affordable family fun in Clearwater. While we don’t normally have crowds this large this late in the season, our game-day staff should be recognized for making it the best guest experience possible. The Threshers send a big ‘Thank You’ to our fans and staff.”
As happy as the team officials were to have the financial and marketing bump Tebow’s presence provided, real joy could be seen on the faces of those who came to the ballpark to see their idol up close. And while the security surrounding the most famous player in the minors was tighter than a typical spring training game, Tebow did take time every game to interact with the fans, signing various items shoved in front of him and posing for the occasional selfie.
“I’ve loved him ever since he went to Florida,” 14-year-old Plant High student Luis Quinones said after Tebow autographed his baseball before Monday’s game. “He’s great.”
Logan Rogers of Palm Harbor handed a present across the top of the dugout for the St. Lucie outfielder, who turned 30 on Monday, Aug. 14. As Tebow nodded in acknowledgement of the gesture, Rogers explained why he gave him the keychain inscribed with his uniform number, 15. “He’s doing good in baseball and he’s doing good in the world,” the 10-year-old said.
Count Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos among the many Tebow fans in attendance. As he roamed the Spectrum Field concourse on Monday night, Cretekos took a moment to speak about the Tebow effect. “Tim Tebow is an inspiration to so many people,” he said.
“It makes you feel good to see a professional athlete who loves his sport and competes at the highest level, yet remains so humble and giving. The economic boost (he provides) is immaterial. People have turned out because of what Tim Tebow represents – hard work, honesty, integrity and perseverance – and this is our way of saying thanks.”
Above the visitors’ dugout, a large group of kids and adults who have directly benefitted from Tebow’s legendary benevolence cheered wildly for their favorite player.
“A Night to Shine is a prom for special needs kids throughout the world that is sponsored by Tim Tebow’s foundation,” Brenda Quick, a parent of one of ‘Tebow’s Kings and Queens’ explained. “He does everything for these kids – providing gowns and tuxes and limo rides. It is the most awesome night ever. He really takes care of our kids as well as the families.”
Unfortunately for Quick her group, like most fans who packed the ballpark, didn’t get to interact with their hero, who had a largely forgettable series, going 1-16 with three walks and six strikeouts in four games as the Mets took three of four games from the Threshers.
However, after witnessing Tebowmania firsthand, it was clear that neither personal interaction, nor on-field success, were necessary ingredients for continued fandom.
“I can’t believe I’m standing this close to that man,” Kelly McGuff said to herself as she watched Tebow standing in left field on Monday night.
When asked why she felt so overwhelmed, the Clearwater resident stated simply, “I love everything he stands for. I’m not a Gators fan. Actually, I’m a Seminoles fan. But I’ve been a huge fan of his since high school, and I had just had to come out here and watch him play. He’s a brilliant young man.”