After the final out in the top of the third inning Wednesday, fans inside First Data Field held up their cellphones and cameras.
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner tossed his warm-up pitches, but they weren’t focused on him. Sorry, Rick Porcello, the fans were more interested in the player swinging a bat and wearing No. 97.
Tim Tebow’s turn in a Grapefruit League game had finally come.
“It’s kind of what I expected, competition level and everything,” Tebow said after the 8-7 win over Boston. “It was fun.”
Tebow made his much-anticipated Grapefruit League debut Wednesday, but it proved to be more hype than substance, with the outfielder going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts while serving as the designated hitter.
The 29-year-old batted eighth and received loud ovations from the crowd, but twice looked at strike three, hit into a double play with the bases loaded, and was also hit on the right shoulder with a pitch.
He’s slated to start in the outfield during Friday’s split-squad game against Houston at First Data Field.
“It was a great opportunity. Definitely things I would work on, but I put some good swings on certain balls, too,” Tebow said. “Saw the ball better than probably it looked, was trying to be very disciplined up there, didn’t necessarily work out in my favor. Take it as a learning opportunity and get better from it.”
Tebow had limited success while participating in the Mets’ Instructional League and Arizona Fall League last year, but the Mets have long planned to use him in Grapefruit League games.
It just so happened the first game they chose for Tebow coincided with the AL CY Young winner coming to town, and Tebow received thunderous applause when he strode to the plate for the first time. Moments earlier, Tebow received a lesson when he tried to take practice swings on Boston’s side.
“I kind of thought you walk around because you’re a left-hander,” Tebow said with a laugh. “I found out you don’t do that.”
Porcello put Tebow away in just four pitches, finishing the former Heisman winner with a borderline 92-mph fastball that Tebow thought had missed the zone. The near sellout crowd booed the call.
In his next at-bat, Tebow came up with the bases loaded and no outs, but hit into a double play that scored a run. He missed a chance to do damage on the first pitch of the at-bat when he only fouled off a fastball that caught too much of the plate and should have been squared up and driven to the outfield.
Tebow finished his day being hit by a pitch – and then being doubled off at first base on a line-out – and striking out on three pitches in his final at-bat. He appeared overmatched at times.
Mets hitting coach Kevin Long said Tebow needs more experience.
“It’s great he’s out here. He needs to play baseball,” Long said. “He needs a lot more at-bats than one game, one spring training game in the big leagues. He’s got a journey, he’s looking at it the right way.”
While Tebow’s day at the plate proved to be a bust, he enjoyed his interaction with the major leaguers, and valued the advice they gave him throughout the day.
Yoenis Cespedes welcomed him to the outfield group by breaking them down with a “Welcome, Tim Tebow” chant, and plenty of players asked him about his NFL and college days.
First base coach Tom Goodwin and Pittsburgh native Neil Walker even ribbed Tebow about defeating the Steelers in the playoffs in 2012 when he was the quarterback of the Broncos.
During the game, Tebow interacted with veterans like Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson.
‘It’s been well-documented that the passion, the hard work, all that stuff is there and real and he’s asking questions, general questions,” Bruce said. “I talked to him a little bit about left-handers and what a left-hander was looking like and just really ball talk to be honest with you.”
Tebow will get another crack at getting his first Grapefruit League hit Friday, and will aim to use the knowledge learned Wednesday to help him improve.
“There are lot of things I’m trying to play catch-up on, and it’s just how fast can I catch up and how much ground can you make up,” Tebow said. “The more time you can spend with K-Long and Goody and work on the side the faster that will come. It’s still a process.”
By Matt Ehalt