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Tebow's rise underscored by Double-A ASG nod

MLB.com @feinsand

TRENTON, N.J. -- It's not often that a member of the Eastern League All-Star team holds his own news conference prior to the game, but then again, Tim Tebow isn't your ordinary Minor League player.

The former Heisman Trophy winner was at Arm & Hammer Park Wednesday for the Double-A league's Midsummer Classic, starting in the No. 9 spot of the Eastern Division lineup as its designated hitter.

TRENTON, N.J. -- It's not often that a member of the Eastern League All-Star team holds his own news conference prior to the game, but then again, Tim Tebow isn't your ordinary Minor League player.

The former Heisman Trophy winner was at Arm & Hammer Park Wednesday for the Double-A league's Midsummer Classic, starting in the No. 9 spot of the Eastern Division lineup as its designated hitter.

The moment Tebow stepped off the bus Wednesday afternoon, the mob that descended upon him was reminiscent of the crowds that followed Michael Jordan during his foray into pro baseball. But unlike Jordan, Tebow is drawing praise for his play between the white lines, too.

Tebow's second season in professional baseball has gone better than most expected; he's hitting .270 with five home runs and 33 RBIs for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, and has heated up since the beginning of June (.323/.356/.417), which helped him gain momentum as the All-Star team was selected.

"That was never a thought process for me," Tebow said when asked if making the All-Star team had been a goal. "I think for me, my thought process was all the things that I've just been working on and really trying to make some tweaks and some changes to really be able to lock in those fundamentals. Just try to improve and continue to stay focused on the process that I have since I started this endeavor."

That endeavor began in 2017, when Tebow played for a pair of Class A teams after giving up his polarizing NFL career to sign with the Mets. Tebow's first season saw him slash .226/.309/.347 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs in 126 combined games, hardly a sign that he would thrive at the next level this season.

But the 30-year-old made some adjustments to his swing in the offseason, something Trenton manager Jay Bell -- Tebow's All-Star skipper -- noticed immediately when he saw him play this season.

"Last year, I got to watch Tim play a little bit when he got called up to High-A ball; he did a great job making some adjustments, but he was able to do it," Bell said. "This year, the adjustments he's made at this level have been extraordinary. He's worked extremely hard, he's highly competitive and he's a skilled athlete. There are some things he can improve upon, but from an offensive standpoint, he's done a phenomenal job."

Tebow went 1-for-4 with a double in Wednesday's game, which the West won in a one-on-one hitting competition after the teams were tied 4-4 at the end of nine innings. He had a chance for dramatics in the ninth, coming to bat with one out and a runner on first, his team trailing by a run. Tebow admitted he was thinking about the possibility of hitting a walk-off home run, but he went down swinging instead.

"I wasn't going to get cheated on those swings," Tebow said with a smile.

Video: Tim Tebow doubles in '18 Eastern League All-Star Game

Tebow, who played three seasons in the NFL from 2010-12 with the Broncos and Jets, has made several changes to the way he trains as he continues to make the transition to his second pro career.

"Even last year, being my first year into baseball, I still didn't really know how my body was adjusting every day to playing every day for 150 games in a row versus trying to get ready for 16 Sundays and really peaking just for the fall," Tebow said. "This year kind of heading into it, I think I prepared a lot better and my body has adjusted to, kind of not as much highs and lows, but a little bit more kind of steady throughout."

Tebow's strong season has sparked speculation that the Mets could call him up in September, and while some see that as little more than a push to sell tickets, Tebow isn't letting that possibility cloud his head.

"I think for me, I can't worry about any of that," Tebow said. "I have to stay focused on the process and not the maybes, not the hypothetical, not the what-ifs. I don't think that's a place that an athlete can live. I don't think you can let your mind go into places like that.

"I think you have to be so focused on each day and every day and the process that you have to do to go and get better, because I know as a baseball player I have a lot of room to grow and I think that I'm getting better every day, every series. And I know I'm not even close to where I want to be."

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has been a big Tebow supporter, even saying this spring that he expected him to play in the Majors at some point in his career. With Alderson on a leave of absence to deal with his cancer treatments and unlikely to return to his role, is Tebow concerned that his chances of getting called up could take a hit?

"I can't say," Tebow said. "I just know with Sandy, I'm praying for him and I know a lot of people are and I just wish him a speedy recovery and the best with his health, because some things are more important than baseball."

Dealing with the game-to-game and series-to-series adjustments has been the biggest challenge for Tebow during his first foray in Double-A. The jump presented an opportunity for him to face significantly better pitchers, many of whom might not throw as hard as the ones he faced in A-ball -- but possess superior command.

"There are a lot of great arms in the lower levels and probably more velo you face in High-A than here," Tebow said. "But here, you face so many guys that know where it's going and can truly pitch and are on the verge of pitching in the bigs."

Although Tebow was the only All-Star with his own news conference Wednesday, it's clear that he's earned the respect of his fellow players, who see him as a competitor rather than a novelty.

"He's grinding, living the life that we live and have worked for our whole life," said Brendan Rodgers, the Rockies' No. 1 prospect and No. 6 overall on MLB Pipeline's Top 100. "He's an athlete; I'm sure football and baseball came to him pretty easily growing up. He's shown he can play with some of the best in this league. I respect what he's doing."

With two national championships and a Heisman Trophy at Florida and an NFL playoff win with the Broncos on his resume, where does Tebow's selection to the Eastern League All-Star team rank?

"I think it will be a lot of fun to be out here with so many guys I competed with this year," Tebow said. "I think at the same time, I never want to get too high or too low with anything that happens. This is a great honor and it means a lot, but we'll still have to get ready for a series against Akron starting tomorrow. And I know that they'll be throwing a lot of good pitchers against us."

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.