In just two years, the Columbia Fireflies and Greenville Drive rivalry is starting to take shape between two of the Palmetto State teams in the South Atlantic League.
The addition of Tim Tebow in Columbia has ramped it up even more. The Drive were one of the first teams to take a shot on social media when Tebow signed in March. One of the tweets from the Drive’s accounts read “We prefer developing MLBers, not PR stunts.”
“They might have been the most unfriendly team,” Fireflies media relations director Kevin Fitzgerald joked Tuesday. “But we understand it is all in good fun. Having Tim, wherever we go, is an extra draw, and this should be a fun series.
“You just have two creative franchises and understand the marketing behind this as well. You drum up some extra interest. It’s two first-class organizations, two really good parks and this year, two good teams.”
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Tuesday’s game at Fluor Field in Greenville was the first meeting between the teams this season. The teams play in just two series this year, both in Greenville. The Drive entered Tuesday’s series opener with a half-game lead over the Fireflies for first place in the SAL’s Southern Division standings.
Leading up to the series, the Drive fueled the rivalry on Twitter, posting a photoshopped image of Tebow overlooking Fluor Field’s Green Monster in left field when the team’s ticketing page was down.
Tebow also was the Burger King Strikeout guy in the game, with one section of the stadium getting coupons for free Whoppers had Tebow struck out three times.
“It started out as a playful gesture. That is what we internally view social media for as fun. It has had a life of its own and brought a lot of attention to the series,” Greenville Drive general manager Eric Jarinko said. “When you’ve got a sports figure like Tim, you get both ends of the spectrum in terms of the fan base.”
Not everyone was amused by the team’s antics. Jarinko got calls back in March from disgruntled people who used colorful language in voicing their displeasure. Both Jarinko and Fitzgerald said they don’t think either team has crossed the line.
“Sports are supposed to be fun,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s minor league baseball, and you hope there is some extra entertainment value as well.”
Tebow didn’t seem to mind either. The Heisman Trophy winner has taken the attention, both positive and negative, he has gotten in stride this year.
“I have dealt with it for so long, it doesn’t bother me,” said Tebow, who entered the game batting .221 with 18 RBIs, 19 walks and 59 strikeouts. “People are going to cheer for you one day and boo you the next. I have dealt with both.”
In spite of all of the online sparring, those on hand in Greenville gave Tebow a warm reception. The former NFL quarterback got a loud ovation in his first at-bat and any time he was mentioned during the game. That included the fifth inning when he hit a two-run double that had the crowd sounding like the game was played at Spirit Communications Park.