WATCH: Tim Tebow-mania kicks off as Blueclaws host Fireflies
Chris Rotolo, Asbury Park Press

LAKEWOOD –  Tim Tebow has always had a love affair with baseball.

“It started when I was about 4, 5-years old,” said Tebow, Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Park before he played a baseball game for the Mets’ low Class A team Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies team in their 5-3 win over  the Philadelphia Phillies’ low Class A team, the Lakewood BlueClaws.    .

That’s right. It is baseball Tebow, who became an international celebrity who is beloved by many as a collegiate and NFL football player, is playing these days.

And believe it or not, Tebow said playing baseball was something he thought “He always was going to do” when he was growing up..

“We got the move back from the Philippines (Tebow was born in Manilla) “They (his parents) signed me up for T-Ball. We were at Normandy Baseball Park (in Nease, Fla.) and I was playing for the White Sox. I wore No. 35, just like Frank Thomas (the former Chicago White Sox slugger). I  fell in love with it then.”

But, it was not long before football took over Tebow’s sporting life. 

“I was for the most part better at (football),” said Tebow, who played Little League and high school baseball, as well as Pop Warner and scholastic football. “Football has a lot of passion, too. I fell in love with that.”

And many people fell in love with Tebow as a football player. Tebow Mania was born after he won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore quarterback at the University of Florida in 2007.

His desire to be an NFL quarterback and Tebow Mania followed him to the National Football League. He was a first round draft choice of the Denver Broncos in 2010 and won a playoff game as a starting quarterback for Denver against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011.

He then had a season to forget with the Jets in 2012 and could not make the roster of the New England Patriots in 2013 and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015.

Even though his sport has changed,  big crowds still follow Tebow. A crowd of 6,468 was at FirstEnergy Park on Sunday for the first of a four-game series that concludes Tuesday.

WATCH: Tim Tebow steps to the plate in Lakewood

Tebow, no matter what sport he plays, is still big business for his team and other teams he is competing against because of his adoring public. The last time, Lakewood played on Mother’s Day in 2015, the attendance was exactly 3,300 less than it was on Sunday. Large crowds are expected the next two nights when the series concludes with a doubleheader on Monday beginning at 5:05 p.m. and a night game Tuesday at 6:35 p.m.

Many fans wore Tebow No. 15 jerseys (Tebow wears No. 15. Many people were crowded around the Columbia dugout on the third base side while Tebow, a left fielder, was holding his press conference with the media in front of that dugout an hour before the game. He got loud cheers each time he came up to bat  

He went 0-for-3 with a walk Sunday. He reached on an error in his first at-bat. Struck out in his two at-bats, including a strikeout looking on a 3-2 pitch for the second strikeout, and walked in his last plate appearance. He was removed from the game for defensive purposes in the bottom of the eighth inning.

And here is Tebow, who will turn 30 on Aug. 14, riding the bus to all the South Atlantic League locations. There was the approximate eight-hour bus trip  earlier this week to Salisbury, MD, where the Delmarva (Md.) Shorebirds play.

Then, there was the 196-mile trip to Lakewood from Salisbury, and on Tuesday nigh-Wednesday morning – after the series concludes – there will be the approximate 12-hour bus trip from Lakewood back to Columbia

That’s a long way from the plane trips he was used to at Florida and in the NFL. But, hey, Michael Jordan once rode the bus as a minor league baseball player, too.

“It’s not too bad,” said Tebow, about the bus rides, “For the ride to Maryland (Salisbury) and here (Lakewood) I bought a nice, little mattress I could try and slide on the floor on the bus. That helped a little bit.

RELATED: Tim Tebow-mania unlike anything seen in Lakewood history

“You know going into it, you’re going to have to do it (ride the bus). I definitely don’t feel above that (riding a bus) at all. You should see what you ride in in the Philippines.”

Tebow, is currently hitting .243 with two home runs, including one in the first at-bat of his professional baseball career, 11 RBI and four doubles. He hsd struck out 31 times in 103 at-bats.

“I feel like I’m improving every day,” Tebow said. The more reps (repetitions) you get, the more pitches you get to see, the more time you get to work in the cage, all of that I think helps the progress. 

“Coming out here and not focusing on results — obviously, that’s nice when you get them — But’s its (ab out) focusing.on having quality at-bats, having plate discipline and being able to have the right rhythm and timing – everything we’ve been working on.”

There was a report last week that the Mets were considering promoting Tebow after the South Atlantic League Al-Star Game in mid-June.

“I’m not worried about anything,” Tebow said. “I’m just focusing on this game (Sunday).”

RELATED: Mets say Tebow signing is ‘driven by baseball’

Considering he is at an advanced age to be a Minor League baseball player, one does if Tebow has a timetable on how long he wants pursue his dream of making it to the Major Leagues.

“I have no idea, No idea,” Tebow said.

However, he did admit that he misses the game where he made his fame.

“It’s (football) I did for a long time and I still love it. It’s not something that goes away. I enjoy doing something else as well,” Tebow  said.

Where this something else in his sporting life takes Tebow, who has always had a deep faith in Christianity, takes him, remains to be seen. 

But, his popularity will always be there.

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