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Tim Tebow and Michael Jordan, Pied Pipers for baseball

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Believe it or not, Tim Tebow and Michael Jordan have a few things in common. Most know that both made huge names for themselves while playing before capacity crowds during their college days.

Like Jordan, Tebow was part of a college championship as a freshman. Jordan and North Carolina won the 1982 NCAA Basketball Tournament, with Jordan providing the winning points. A generation later, the Florida Gators were the 2006 BCS national champions, with Tebow accounting for two touchdowns.

Jordan won the James Naismith Award as college basketball’s best player. Tebow won the Heisman Trophy as the top player in college football.

There is, of course, nothing to compare in their professional careers. Jordan, with 6 NBA titles playing for the Chicago Bulls, was arguably the best to ever play the game, while Tebow won one playoff game for the Denver Broncos.

In 2017, more comparisons between the two have emerged. Not for glory in their primary sports, but instead for their mutual detours into professional baseball.

Many in the sporting world know Tebow is giving baseball a try with the Columbia Fireflies, the New York Mets’ Class A farm team. in South Carolina. The frenzy surrounding him began on opening day when he homered in his very first career at-bat before a sellout crowd.

Since that day, Tebow has connected for one other home run and as of Friday, his batting average was down to .221. No matter; he is still a big draw.

The Fireflies’ average attendance is up by around 45 percent so far. Teams in Hickory, North Carolina and Augusta, Georgia report spikes of 120 percent and 82 percent, respectively, when Tebow and Columbia are in town.

“He’s a celebrity and he’s a brand,” Lakewood (NJ) BlueClaws’ director of ticket sales Jim McNamara told “Plus, the casual fan into pop culture is interested in him.”

Lakewood drew twice their season average during a recent series when Tebow paid a visit.

As for Jordan, the basketball superstar struggled throughout the summer of 1994 playing for the Chicago White Sox Minor League affiliate in Birmingham. He hit .202 with three home runs and 51 runs batted in, with plenty of strikeouts, for the Barons that year.

Yet his effect on Minor League Baseball was just the same as Tebow’s 23 years later. During a visit to Nashville in late April, 1994, the Tennessean newspaper described Jordan’s following this way.

“In just 15 Double-A games, Michael Jordan has assumed the role as Minor League Baseball’s Pied Piper.” The night before, the Nashville Xpress experienced a record crowd of more than 15,000 for the game. It was a common occurrence throughout the Southern League that year.

“Michael Jordan can bring something to baseball that nobody else can bring,” said Xpress owner Larry Schmittou. “He can put people in the seats.”

Now, 23 years later, change the name in that quote to Tim Tebow, and we have come full circle.

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

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