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Tim Tebow

Former Florida Gator and pro quarterback Tim Tebow is happy to be a New York Met in Port St. Lucie for instructional league practice. As a child, Tebow always thought he would be a professional baseball player.
GREG GARDNER PHOTO

Tebow’s arrival will benefit Mets fans and city merchants

BY GREG GARDNER

With Tim Tebow arriving in Port St. Lucie even more people are expected to attend spring training in 2017, evidenced by the mixed crowd of dedicated baseball and football fans shouting support for him at Tradition Field.

Tebow will draw people who come to see him — and the Mets — as demonstrated by his first day at a recent instructional league practice. Almost 600 people and 75 media people from across the country descended on Tradition Field to watch the former football star from afar with opportunities for close-ups. When Tebow left the practice fields, a small crowd crushed against the fence as he signed memorabilia and posed for photos with fans for a precious few moments of excitement.

“It is great for the town and I hope he does well,” said Joel McGuirk, front desk manager at the Holiday Inn Express in St. Lucie West. “When he starts getting face time during spring training, the area will see an increase in business from locals and the people coming from New York. I hope it is more than a publicity stunt and Tim Tebow does well.”

A Florida football prodigy, Tebow was the first sophomore Heisman Trophy winner while quarterbacking the University of Florida Gators to the 2007 National Championship as Most Valuable Player. In a short career, Tebow played for the National Football League Broncos, Jets, Patriots and Eagles before leaving football, authoring a book and working as a sports announcer.

The Mets signed 29-year-old Tebow last month to a minor league contract with a reported $100,000 bonus. On his first day at Tradition Field, the team was selling jerseys with his name and the No. 15 on the back. Tebow said at his news conference that he is happy to have the same number he had as a Florida Gator and it was the first time he had seen a fan wearing the shirt.

“This is exciting for us and the people of Port St. Lucie,” said Paul Taglieri, executive director of minor league facilities for the Mets. “He should have an impact on ticket sales and businesses in the county. People enjoyed watching him work out, up close and personal.”

South of Tradition Field is St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church, home to 2,800 families. “My parishioners love him as a man of faith who is not afraid to show it,” Rev. Victor Ulto said. “Undoubtedly, part of our parish are less interested in baseball and more interested in Mr. T (Tebow). I’m anticipating more excitement than usual at Tradition Field and we give an open invitation for Tim Tebow to attend St. Bernadette’s.”

Born in the Philippines to two missionaries, Tebow travels there to work at his foundation’s orphanage and hospital. He still calls Jacksonville home where he grew up playing baseball on Normandy Field for the Little League White Sox.

Debra Harsh can’t remember the last time she was at Tradition Field, but she came to see Tebow, “I thought he got a raw deal and now he has re-invented himself, first as an announcer and now as a baseball player,” said Harsh, a Jensen Beach salon owner. “I wanted to be around that energy. Tim Tebow is not a quitter. I think he will do a world of good and bring other people to Port St. Lucie. They sold a ton of T-shirts. I think he will be good for the economy.”

“It’s great for St. Lucie West and it keeps us on the map with great exposure,” said Walter Pietrzak, owner of the West End Grill for the past nine years. “With the Mets in the World Series last year, it will be hard to top that. But he (Tebow) is good for sports and for business. I wish him all the luck in the world. He is a straight-up guy.”

At the opening day news conference, Tebow said he liked what little he had seen of Port St. Lucie, but avoided the question of whether he would move here.

“I will be here as much as I have to be for the Mets,” Tebow said. “It’s exciting to be on a team. For me, success will be giving everything I have. This is a dream for me and it is a blessing to have the opportunity. I am not afraid to fail or fall flat on my face. I want to be a role model to kids to do what is in your heart.”

And Treasure Coast children may soon have the opportunity to take him up on that.

Tebow said that if any football teams, including the New England Patriots, tries to sign him, he will tell them he is under contract with the Mets. He will miss one day a week of practice to fulfill his prior commitment as an announcer for ESPN TV.