PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The final tally was nine batting practice home runs for Tim Tebow, each one of them the subject of admiration. A small but devoted group of fans clustered around Monday to watch the show at the Mets' Spring Training complex. Photographers hovered nearby, documenting Tebow's every move.
Tebow's mere presence here was divisive; some fans wondered why they should care, given his status as a 29-year-old prospect who went more than a decade without playing organized baseball. Others craned their necks to see if he's still got it.
But on the first day of his first full year in the Minors, Tebow at least proved that he was not completely out of place.
"I'm not going to worry about what everyone's writing or what everybody's thinking or however I'm being marketed," Tebow said. "I just want to be able to continue the process, enjoy the process, enjoy every day, get to know my teammates and have fun out there."
Monday was Tebow's first official day of Spring Training, as part of the Mets' STEP camp for elite or noteworthy prospects. Since signing a Minor League deal on Sept. 8, the former Heisman Trophy winner has participated in the instructional league in Port St. Lucie, played in Arizona Fall League games and even worked on his hitting alongside Nationals star Daniel Murphy. The next phase for Tebow is Minor League Spring Training, which should include a few cameos in Grapefruit League games.
For now, he is simply easing into Minor League life. Tebow's first day consisted of stretching and wind sprints -- he was at the front of his pack on each run -- as well as throwing, fielding and hitting drills. A total of nine balls went over the fence during batting practice, six of them to the opposite field.
"I don't think it's a bigger challenge than I thought," Tebow said of his transition to baseball. "Obviously I knew that it was a big challenge -- imagine picking up the sport after 12 years of not playing. So I understood it. And I think part of the challenge in it being so hard is part of why it's so fun, and why it's something I'm enjoying and loving, because it's a hard game. It's not an easy thing to do. Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things in sports, but I enjoy the process very much."
Tebow also seems to tolerate -- if not enjoy -- the hype, signing autographs Monday for every fan who waited. Though Tebow did not draw legions of admirers to Port St. Lucie, instead working out in front of a few dozen spectators, his presence at camp was palpable. Photographers followed his every move. Security guards around the complex tightened their usual restrictions. Even Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon trekked out to the back fields to watch Tebow work.
Such attention should soon wilt considerably, once Tebow settles into the everyday grind of Minor League life. But if Tebow keeps doing the improbable, some trace of it may linger for the rest of Spring Training -- or, if he has his way, for even longer than that.
"I can honestly sit here before every one of you and say I've had so much fun training, pursuing it, getting hits, striking out, whatever it's been," Tebow said. "Today is just the next day in that process. I'm going to enjoy that. … I'm excited about that opportunity to work for this and pursue it, and in the meantime hopefully make some people's day by giving them a hug or signing an autograph, or getting a couple hits."