ROME, Ga. – On Tuesday, I made the trip back to my hometown of Rome, Georgia to see Tim Tebow play as a minor league baseball player.
Not long after learning last month that Tebow had been assigned by the Mets to the Columbia Fireflies, their low Class-A affiliate, I went to check the schedule to see if and when they would be coming to town against the Rome Braves.
It looks like I wasn’t the only one.
News spread quickly about Tebow’s impending trip to Rome and, even though Braves fans in Rome have had the pleasure of seeing players like Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur basically grow up in State Mutual Stadium, the level of excitement felt to be a much different vibe from fans in this case.
Even before the Tuesday night game, pictures and stories filled Facebook, Twitter and Instagram of Tebow signing autographs, taking pictures and engaging with fans in a way that even surprised me. Last year, I spent some time working with the Birmingham Barons and worked closely with players in the clubhouse. Some players were great about signing autographs and mingling with fans. Others couldn’t care less about the people who regularly bought tickets to see them play.
I get that there is a level of maturity that goes with these things, but if that’s the case, Tebow is setting a great example for both his teammates and athletes in general alike.
As I walked to my seat, the packed stadium was filled with Florida and Denver Broncos No. 15 jerseys, while others simply wore some type of Gators apparel. His fans were everywhere. Even when he was introduced as the next batter, the stadium roared in excitement to see him. He is as polarizing a player as I’ve ever seen in person.
Looking back, like a lot of fans of college football, I hated Tim Tebow. Not because I really hated him, I hated that he wasn’t on my team. He was a winner. He was confident. He was everything every college football fan wanted in their quarterback but didn’t have. And to this day, he is one of the greatest college football players I’ve ever seen play live.
Just like everyone else, I’ve made jokes about him. His inability to throw accurately enough to be an NFL quarterback, his clean-cut lifestyle, his words of encouragement that always seemed to make me wonder why he is always so happy. But the more I watched and listened, the more of a fan I became.
Tebow is as good of an example for young kids as any other athlete in professional sports today. He’s a Heisman Trophy winner and a former NFL quarterback who now spends his time as a minor league baseball player. You could say he has some privilege that comes along with that, and he probably would agree. Those things certainly didn’t hurt his chances when it came to getting in front of the right people to show off his ability as a baseball player.
Either way, Tebow made the most of his chance and secured a spot on a minor league baseball team with his eye set on eventually reaching the majors.
And still, for as talented and successful as he has been, there are some who question his motives, his talent and even his faith. Tebow continues being a beacon for those of the same faith. An example of someone who oozes joy and excitement in his everyday life. Someone who seems always joyful, even after failing to live up to expectations in the NFL. You don’t even have to be a Christian or have belief in God to know that Tim Tebow who means well and genuinely wants to do good for others.
Isn’t that enough to be a fan of his? Instead of getting lost in the riches of fame and fortune or addiction and abuse, Tebow continues to live a full life, free of bad publicity but not of criticism. Sure, I could have written this story about how I drove two hours one way just to see Tim Tebow go 0 for 3 with a walk and a run scored in a winning effort on the road, but that’s not what this story is about. It’s so much more.
And that’s why I root for not only Tim Tebow the athlete, but Tim Tebow the person.
(You can follow Justin Nails on Twitter @justinnails)
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