PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Ed Hobson stood up in the bleachers alongside the first-base line at Field 7 in the Mets’ spring coaching facility Saturday morning, having pushed 300 miles to watch one man.
“Hoping to meet St. Timothy,” stated Hobson, an assistant chief at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers. “We even have a four-foot alligator in front of our house. We named him Tebow because he’s the greatest Gator of all time.”
He was referring, after all, to Tim Tebow, the former soccer participant and present Mets farmhand. Hobson, a University of Florida alumnus like Tebow, had by no means seen him in the flesh, however he wore a T-shirt emblazoned “Team Tebow.” Hobson’s 6-year-old son, Liam, wore a reproduction of Tebow’s previous No. 15 Florida soccer jersey.
They had been on a household pilgrimage. The evening earlier than, they hopped in a Honda Odyssey at their house close to the Georgia coast to look at the newest cease on Tebow’s baseball journey. Father and son moved nearer to the chain-link fence as Tebow made the first steps in his transition from a Class AA All-Star to coaching for the Syracuse Mets in Class AAA.
Tebow, 31, strode into this third spring coaching with a assured gait, intent on not repeating previous missteps. Last February, Tebow failed to make it past a sprinkler head during drill work and sprained his ankle. The injury worsened as a result of Tebow’s refusal to rest, and he collected just one hit in 18 at-bats, all as a designated hitter, in seven spring games.
“I didn’t play one snap of outfield,” he said Saturday before catching his slip into football vernacular.
Forgive Tebow. In the gig economy, he has remained on the go. During the fall and winter, he returned to work as a college football analyst for ESPN. Still, he swung in batting cages on college campuses between on-camera appearances. On the day of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, he performed his television duties in the morning, went to Tulane University for batting practice and then returned to the stadium for the game. In a suite, he discussed his swing with his hitting coach, Jay Gibbons, the former Dodger and Oriole who travels with Tebow.
“When you give me enough time, I’m going to just make up that ground, those tiny inches every day,” Tebow said. “That’s my mind-set: Just keep working; get a little bit better.”
Though Tebow has been out of the N.F.L. since 2015 — and had not appeared in a regular-season game since 2012 — football still calls. In recent weeks, Tebow turned down an offer to play for Coach Steve Spurrier’s Orlando Apollos in the Alliance of American Football, a nascent league populated with former N.F.L. players like Tebow, who played three seasons. Before reporting to Mets camp, Tebow also walked down the red carpet at the premiere of “Run the Race,” a faith-based movie he co-produced with his brother, Robby.
He maintained, though, that neither film nor football could lure him away from the diamond now.
“No way could I stop and not give this the chance after everything I’ve worked for,” he said. “This is what I’m in now, and I’m all in.”
Tebow commenced his latest campaign in the batting cage. He then ran down fly balls in the outfield, backpedaling and making over-the-shoulder catches. When he walked to home plate with his bat, he received hugs from Omar Minaya, the special assistant to the general manager; Brodie Van Wagenen, the general manager; and Fred Wilpon, the team owner. On pitch after pitch, Tebow, who batted .273 with the Class AA Binghamton Rumble Ponies last summer, turned his hips and connected with the ball. Seven of his hits cleared the right-field fence.
“It’s raw power,” Manager Mickey Callaway said. “It’s real. The bat moves through the zone pretty swiftly. He’s got to continue to work on handling certain zones, but he puts the barrel on the ball, and it goes a long way.”
Tebow also could not help but weigh in on the recent story that transcended both of his sports. While on assignment for ESPN, he met Kyler Murray, the Oklahoma quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy last season after being picked by Oakland in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft. Murray recently announced his decision to play football professionally, instead of baseball. Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2007, understood his position better than most.
“I think this was a really tough decision for him,” Tebow said. “He loves two sports, and I can really relate to that. And he went with something that he’s been really good at lately and dominating in. When we talked about it, and we did talk about that, I just gave him the advice to follow your heart. Whatever you’re passionate about.”
He recalled telling Murray: “You know what? Don’t do it for your agents, or your friends and sometimes necessarily even your family. Do it for what’s on your heart, and don’t let other people define you. You’re going to have all these coaches that you look up to and everybody else that’s going to tell you what they think, but what’s most important is following your heart and your passion.”
Reminders of Tebow’s past life greeted him on the other side of the fence after his first workout. One spectator held up a photo of him celebrating with football teammates at Florida. Another held out a Jets jersey with his No. 15 stitched into it. Tebow scrawled his signature for children as he tucked his yellow birch bat with “John 16:33” — a Scripture passage about taking heart and finding peace — marked on the barrel beneath his arm.
Anticipation grew for Donna Taaffee, a fan, as she watched him approach.
“He’s getting closer!” she said. “Oh my goodness, he’s getting closer!”
Tebow smiled as he passed. He then shook the hand of Hobson, whose son held out a baseball and pen for Tebow to sign. Tebow obliged.
Hobson joked about catching up later on with Tebow, who recently got engaged to Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, the 2017 Miss Universe pageant winner.
“My co-worker and I are going to crash his wedding,” he said.