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Tim Tebow makes splash in Florida debut, but it will get much tougher

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Tim Tebow made quite a splash during his first night in Florida as a professional baseball player. Following his promotion from the Columbia Fireflies to the St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League, the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback went 3-for-5 in a double header Wednesday night against the Palm Beach Cardinals.

One of those hits was a home run off Junior Fernandez, whose fastball was in the mid-90’s range. The 2,315 who attended got what they could only hope they would see from Tebow, but the Mets dropped both games.

His promotion was a surprise. When news broke that Tebow was headed to St. Lucie, he was batting all of .220 in a league one step below the Florida State League. Was that good enough to move up?

“I honestly felt good the last few weeks in Columbia and just tried to carry it over and put the bat on the ball and hit it hard,” Tebow was quoted as saying by USA Today. “I was thankful I could get one out tonight.”

Tebow hit 3 home runs and knocked in 23 runs while in Columbia with 14 doubles. He went hitless in his last 9 at bats.

Tebow and the New York Mets’ brass are fully aware he will be seeing better pitching in bigger ballparks. The Florida State League mostly plays in major league spring training parks with major league dimensions and a summer atmosphere not conducive to hitting home runs.

Just days before Tebow’s promotion, three other Fireflies teammates earned the call to St. Lucie. Two pitchers, Jordan Humphreys and Merandy Gonzalez headed for Florida along with infielder Michael Paez. All three were selected to play in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game.

Humphreys was the first pitcher in all of the minor leagues to reach 10 wins, while Gonzalez was the league’s pitcher of the month for April, mainly because he was the only pitcher in the major or minor leagues to not allow a run during the month. Paez was hitting .290 with 8 home runs, 43 runs batted in and a league-leading 21 doubles.

Those are the kinds of numbers that get you promoted to the next level. Do the Mets see something beyond the statistics put up by Tebow?

The answer is likely, no. Tebow is 29 years old, giving him a smaller window than his teammates to make a go of his second sport. A 30-year-old major league rookie is exceedingly rare.

The guess here is the Mets are giving Tebow an opportunity to perform in his home state to show what he can or cannot do. If he can somehow put up better numbers against better pitching in Florida, then a stint with Class AA Binghamton Mets in upstate New York is justifiable.

If he is overwhelmed at the plate, there is no sense in going any further. The pitching only gets better the higher the level.

It would be great for baseball if Tebow can have more nights like he had Wednesday and keep climbing the ladder. I join with those wishing him the best of luck, but it will be a tough climb.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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