BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (AP) — Far from the warmth of Florida where he became a household name and a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Tim Tebow made his Double-A debut on Thursday night with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies as snowflakes wafted through the evening air and temperatures hovered in the 30s.
All of the field-level box seats at NYSEG Stadium were sold on the blustery night, and although plenty of seats were empty, Tebow's appearance lured New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon north from New York City to take a closer look at the organization's most unusual prospect.
"He's another ballplayer. I understand all the excitement because it's Tim Tebow," Wilpon said. "We look forward to having him perform and move up the system, which he's doing. That's why he's here — moving up the chain.
"He did well last year in A ball. Now, he's got to prove himself here and probably have to go to Triple-A at some point. "He's a hard worker. He'll do whatever he has to do to succeed."
Tebow, who was not on the Mets' 40-man major league roster, was re-assigned to the Rumble Ponies of the Eastern League after going 1 for 18 (.056) with 11 strikeouts in seven big league exhibition games. The 30-year-old outfielder also was hampered by a left ankle sprain and had been used solely as a designated hitter or pinch hitter because of the injury.
Tebow, who arrived in town on Monday, started in left field against the Portland Sea Dogs and was batting seventh. He was greeted with a nice round of applause at pregame introductions.
Binghamton hitting coach Val Pascucci, Tebow's manager last year in the Instructional League, said he's seen steady improvement.
"He comes in, gets his swings in early. He's been consistent with it," Pascucci said. "That's kind of the name of the game, finding a spot where he's comfortable in the hitting zone. He's been repeating that swing pretty well right now. To see him a year later with the improvements he's made in his swing, that's a tough thing to do, catch up all those years. But from the first time I saw him to this spring he's made some nice improvements. He's always looking to get better."
Tebow, who also played for the Denver Broncos of the NFL, split last season, his first in the minor leagues, between a pair of Class A teams — Columbia, South Carolina, in the South Atlantic League and St. Lucie in the Florida State League. He hit .226 with eight homers and 52 RBIs in 126 games.
Early in spring training, New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said he thought Tebow had the talent to make it to the big leagues. Alderson said the experiment wouldn't last forever, but he remained optimistic because Tebow had made "meaningful progress."
Tebow said in spring training that his focus was just to continue to improve and keep working. He said he spent three to five days a week to get ready for Year 2 of his pro career in the Mets organization.
Joe Pochkar, a season ticket-holder from nearby Endwell, called Tebow's arrival a win-win for an area along New York's Southern Tier that's been among the slowest regions of the state to recover from the financial crash a decade ago.
"I like it. Tebow's a great guy," Pochkar said. "I think he deserves it. He works very hard at his craft, and his passion and work ethic rub off on other players. It's more than just the ability. So he hits a buck seventy-five, if he gets all the other players with his passion and attitude and desire, it's fantastic. I wish him all the best.
"A lot of people rag on him for doing what he's doing. This guy's positive, he's a nice guy, good for the community," Pochkar said. "He's 30. He took a long time off. Double-A separates the men from the boys. We'll see."
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