Not everybody is as excited about Tim Tebow playing for the Columbia Fireflies as fans in the Midlands.
One of the Fireflies rivals in the South Atlantic League, the Greenville Drive, seemed particularly bothered that the former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback will be playing baseball this summer for the New York Mets Class A affiliate.
On it’s social media account, the Drive, the Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, teed off on Tebow. It started off by making light of Tebow’s struggles at the plate during spring training, making ticket holders an offer of free hamburgers from Burger King should Tebow strike out three times or more during a game in their series in Greenville from June 13-15.
In Mets’ camp, the 29-year-old Tebow is batting .200 (4-for-20), without an RBI or run scored. The left-handed hitting outfielder went 0-for-3 in Monday’s game, his seventh of the spring.
After firing a shot off the bow, the Drive took direct aim at a major Tebow criticism on their Twitter feed. Tebow signed with the Mets on Sept. 8 to a mix of skepticism in the baseball industry. He hadn’t played organized baseball since his junior year of high school.
The Drive pounced on that point, writing, “Not jealous. We prefer developing future MLBers, not PR stunts.”
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is accustomed to the criticism in the short time since adding Tebow to the organization. He diffused the situation in an interview with Newsday, pointing out Tebow isn’t a publicity stunt.
“The fact that he’s starting at Columbia, he’s really not taking anybody’s spot. By the way, we have lots of players in our organization who are just that: organizational players,” Alderson said. “Not every player that we have is a top prospect, whose opportunity is being curtailed by Tim Tebow or anybody else.”
It’s doubtful that would have been enough to calm the Drive, which had back-and-forth about Tebow with other Twitter users. An apology was offered, but it included a photo of Tebow famously crying after a loss in the SEC championship game during his days as the University of Florida’s star quarterback.
Sensing the situation had escalated too far, the Drive took a more conciliatory approach. It called Tebow a role model and offered to raise money for charity during his appearance in Greenville.
Clearly the Drive isn’t as enthusiastic as Tebow is.
“I am excited about continuing the journey. I learned so much this spring working with T.C. (Terry Collins), Kevin Long and Tom Goodwin,” Tebow told reporters Monday. “I hear so many good things about the city of Columbia. I hear the stadium is great, the people are great. I look forward to coming there to make an impact on the field and in the community.”
Columbia opens the season April 6 at home against Augusta in a four-game series.
“I think it is really exciting. These things don’t happen too often,” Fireflies president John Katz said. “You don’t get athletes that have a broad appeal from so many demographics. So much about Tim Tebow is appealing to folks. You got an athlete to have success at so many different levels. For him to be able to go out and chase his dreams playing minor league baseball is amazing.”
Katz said how long Tebow’s will stay depends on how comfortable the Mets’ organization is with his progress.
“Sending him to a full season club is what we hoped to be able to do,” Alderson said. “And based on what he’s done in spring training, and his whole body of work since last fall, we feel comfortable with him going to Columbia.”
Staff writer Lou Bezjak contributed to this report.