PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For a former Heisman Trophy winner and retired NFL quarterback who is a decade older than many of his teammates, Tim Tebow seemed to blend in well after he stepped onto the back fields at the Mets' Spring Training complex to begin his professional baseball
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For a former Heisman Trophy winner and retired NFL quarterback who is a decade older than many of his teammates, Tim Tebow seemed to blend in well after he stepped onto the back fields at the Mets' Spring Training complex to begin his professional baseball career.
The 29-year-old went through the daily three-hour workout on the Minor League fields on a swelteringly hot, humid morning on Monday, joining 57 Mets Minor League prospects who had gathered in Florida for the first day of instructional league practice.
"I was more excited about this than nervous," Tebow said. "I was excited to be on a team and go through practice and learn the routine."
"Instructs," as they're called within the industry, are for a team's youngest prospects who are in the beginning stages of their careers. Think of it as an extension of Rookie ball or a Class A season, designed as a way to continue a player's development after the final games have been played.
Tebow works out in Port St. Lucie
A typical instructional league workout may draw 10 to 20 spectators, most of whom have some sort of familial tie to a participant. In other words, the back fields of a Minor League complex this time of year are anything but a tourist draw -- unless, of course, one of the participants is a former college football star who played for two national championship teams, went on to play in the NFL and decided that he was ready to give it another try 11 years after he last played the sport as a high schooler.
Predictably, Tebow's Mets "debut" drew quite a bit of attention.
With more than 70 members of the media following Tebow's every move and upward of 400 fans lined up along the fences trying to get a glimpse and a photo of the former football star, there was very little that could be considered normal about this September morning at Tradition Field.
Even the most mundane task drew loud cheers from onlookers, many of whom were wearing Tebow Mets jerseys and shirts they bought on their way into the facility.
Tebow takes a practice swing. Tebow works on his footwork on the bases. Tebow makes good contact during his three rounds of batting practice, connecting with nearly every pitch thrown to him.
Each step, each movement, each swing came with a large helping of fan adoration. And this was just Day 1.
To his credit, Tebow's past experience dealing with the spotlight came in handy. He seemed to be able to block out distractions and concentrate on the work on the field.
"You want every one of those guys in the locker room and the coaches to know that I'm just going out there trying to perform and get better and learn the system, just like they are," Tebow said. "When you get to know each other, hopefully that's what they find out about me and [that] I'm just here to put in the work."
Tebow's debut arrived about three weeks after he worked out for scouts from 28 of 30 Major League teams at the baseball facility at the University of Southern California. That showcase generated a lukewarm response from most scouts, most of whom gave him high marks for strength, speed and ability to connect with batting-practice pitches, but they were critical of his throwing ability, footwork and projected ability to hit more challenging Major League-caliber pitching.
After Monday's workout, Tebow said the first day of instructional league workouts was far less nerve-racking than the tryout at USC.
"For me, success is going to be defined by giving it everything I have and be the best I can be and pursuing this with everything I have," he said. "It's a dream for me and a blessing for me to be able to pursue that."
Tebow has his critics. In fact, it would be hard to find anyone who works in and around the baseball industry who gives him even a slim chance of some day making it to the Majors. Tebow's age, inexperience and the fact that hitting a Major League pitch is the hardest thing to do in sports are three main reasons.
Many also see this as a publicity stunt, a notion Tebow shrugged off.
"The good thing is, I don't have to say anything," Tebow said of his detractors. "I just go into the locker room, get a workout, then take a shower, hang out with my teammates, show up tomorrow and go train again.
"I guess I have a little chip [on my shoulder]. You want to prove people right. But it's not really the naysayers. I want to prove the coaches right and the Mets organization and my teammates, to try to be the best baseball player than I can and more importantly, the best person that I can."
Tebow also squashed any notion that he would be tempted to bolt if an NFL team tried to lure him out of retirement -- "I've got to play baseball tomorrow -- that's what I would tell them," he insisted -- but he does plan to keep his commitment to the SEC Network as a college football announcer.
Tebow will leave the Mets after Friday workouts and return immediately after the Saturday broadcast, an arrangement readily approved by Mets general manager Sandy Alderson.
"Mr. Alderson said, 'Hey, everybody's got to take a break for a day,'" Tebow said. "I literally will be gone less for less than 24 hours. It's one day of work."
But there will be many more work days in Florida, under the hot sun and away from the cameras, where Tebow will try to accelerate a process that he envisions ending with him someday playing in the big leagues.
Time will tell.
"That's the goal," Tebow said of reaching The Show. "I believe with enough work and the right training, hopefully, I can get it done."
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.