Syracuse, N.Y. — Tim Tebow ventured out here Monday night to Dick’s Sporting Goods. May have taken a few too many pictures with fans, too.
He has received a text message from Syracuse University athletic director John Wildhack, his old boss at ESPN, and spent part of Monday driving around the athletic facilities on campus.
The Syracuse Mets new left fielder is getting acquainted with his temporary home, encountering the familiar and a lot of new at the start of this baseball season.
“Have you tried a salt potato yet?” said a voice from the back of Tebow’s introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“A salt potato? No sir,” Tebow said, sounding less-than-certain a salt potato was even a thing.
“You will need to check that out, that’s for sure.”
“I’m on a keto diet. That’s low-carb. I can’t eat potatoes.”
“You can cheat one day.”
“No. Then that’s one day I’m getting worse. That’s not my mindset.”
Tebow said all the right things Tuesday, smiling, laughing and making eye contact with reporters while delivering a polished response to any question fired his way.
He touched on his new city, his baseball odyssey from longshot prospect to the precipice of the major leagues and his goals for Thursday’s season opener at NBT Bank Stadium and the 2019 season.
Tebow’s mindset at the dawn of his third minor league baseball season is not unlike many other players on this veteran-laden Triple-A club: Be the best player he can be, and, maybe, that will be enough to receive the most meaningful phone call in this sport.
He has a penchant for hitting a home run in his first game at each level he has reached in the minors, but Tebow said his approach Thursday will be to follow the scouting report for the opposing pitcher and put together a good at-bat.
“It’s going to take a lot more work,” Tebow said of finding success at this level, where rosters, including his own, are filled with players with major league experience.
But he has gotten here through dogged repetition, battling through an ankle injury that sabotaged his spring training time with the New York Mets last spring and a hand injury that ended his Double-A season in Binghamton last summer with a month left in the season. (He said his hand no longer bothers him.)
Baseball has always meant something special to Tebow since he was 4 years old and slid on a No. 35 jersey.
“Just like Frank Thomas,” he said.
He recounted how Urban Meyer recruited him at his high school baseball games and went back and forth with him at the University of Florida about whether he should pick up the sport again.
“That was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, choosing to go football over baseball,” Tebow said.
He became close with some members of the Colorado Rockies during his time playing for the Denver Broncos, and that further enticed him.
There are times, even now, he said, when he has to convince himself he is no longer a football player playing baseball, but a baseball player trying to make it to the majors just like his teammates.
“I did it without a lot of support,” he said of his return to baseball. “Very few people … even on my team (of agents), they were kind of like, ‘Uhh… ’ They’re going to say the right things, but you know they were like, ‘What are you doing?’
“It’s not necessarily about proving people wrong or pleasing anyone. It’s about living a dream, pursuing a passion and trying to do it with as much purpose as you can.”
After Tebow answered his final question Tuesday, a small group of season-ticket holders applauded the new left fielder.
“I get an applause?” he said.
On this day, he did, even if he couldn’t help but mention the 1999 Orange Bowl, with Donovan McNabb and the Syracuse football team competing against the Florida Gators.
“It was 31-10, by the way,” Tebow quipped. “It’s not a big deal.”
Yes, Tebow made quite a first impression.
And, for the most part, Syracuse liked what it heard.