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Tebowmania comes to the Rome Braves

The Tebow train made its first stop in Rome Monday night in front of a sellout crowd. He put together an interesting night to say the least.

The Tebow train made its first stop in Rome Monday night to a sellout crowd at State Mutual Field.

It was my first time seeing Tim Tebow in live action. Perhaps I went in with low expectations, but I walked away far more impressed than I expected.

Tebow of course started his comeback this past October in the Arizona Fall League. He was received with much skepticism having not played organized baseball since high school. He slashed .194/.296/.242 in 62 at bats. He didn’t appear to have much of a feel for the strike zone, striking out 20 times and walking just eight.

After a quick stint in spring training, the New York Mets assigned Tebow to the Columbia Fireflies of the South Atlantic League. Heading into Monday night’s action, Tebow was hitting .176/.243/.353 in his first nine games in full-season ball.

He did, however, have nine RBIs in those first nine games as well. That’s not too shabby.

"I feel like I’m improving," Tebow said. "I’m getting there. The timing, the rhythm, different things I’ve been working on, but I’m enjoying the process everyday."

Tebow has found a bit of his power stroke as well. Of his six hits entering the Rome series, four were singles and two were home runs. The first home run came in his first at bat of the season.

That’s the stuff legends are made of... sort of.

"It felt really good," Tebow said. "I got ahead in the count and he threw me an away fastball. I just tried to stay in it and tried to drive it opposite field.

"I’m grateful it went out. At first I thought it was a double," Tebow added with a laugh.

Tebow talks with the local press before BP. Wayne Cavadi

Tebow talks with the local press before BP.

Seeing Tebow in person, you instantly see that he is just a hulk of a presence. Sure, he is 29 in a league of teenagers and freshly turned 20 year olds, but Tebow would be big at Triple-A. He’s 6-foot-3 and 255, with probably three pounds of fat on his entire body. If he can get that timing down, he’s going to have a power swing.

Tebow’s final line was 1-for-4 with a run scored and a strikeout. He also reached on an error, which would have been a close play at the bag if Derian Cruz didn’t launch it over first baseman Anthony Concepcion’s head. His one hit was a 1-on, no-out base hit in the top of the ninth with the Fireflies trailing 3-1.

He’s aggressive at the plate. He doesn’t wait for many pitches, swinging at the very first pitch he saw of the evening. He made solid, hard contact, but it was right at Cruz.

Tebow takes up the entire batter’s box when he comes to the plate. It looks like his feet touch both the front and back of the stripes. He needs to improve his handwork during his swing, but he has natural strength and a pretty quick bat through the zone.

The 29-year old rookie made a lot of, well, rookie mistakes. He botched his one play in the outfield, coming at a short hop awkwardly and then letting the ball fly out of his mitt on the transfer. Tebow was nearly picked off by Braves catcher Lucas Herbert at first base with a big lead, seemingly losing focus after the pitch.

His one strikeout, he was utterly confused by Adam McCreery’s curveballs. He ducked out of the way on an inside curve (to be fair, it was pretty nasty and broke nearly perfectly at the last minute). The second was his only swing and miss of the night, for strike three.

Those are fixable mistakes for most players in the Sally. The question is how long does Tebow have to fix them compared to the others.

He didn’t really chase any bad pitches, but he also didn’t see too many with his aggressive approach. He was able to put the ball in play to the opposite field. Whether that was timing or him truly working on doing so as he said he was is yet to be seen.

But 5,000 fans came to see Tebow play baseball, and 5,000 fans were likely happy.

He opened some other eyes as well.

"I thought he swung the bat good," Rome Braves manager Randy Ingle said. "He got a big hit that last time up, in a crucial situation. I tell you what, for somebody that's been out of baseball that long, he looked like he knew what he was doing at the plate. He didn’t chase bad pitches. He looked like he could be a threat.

"It’s great for these guys to play in front of that atmosphere. Some of them out there have come from the Gulf Coast League. There were five people in the stands and it was scouts and parents."

"I grew up watching him play quarterback at Florida," 19-year old Rome starting pitcher Bryce Wilson added (he was ten when Tebow won the Heisman). "I liked the way he plays and carries himself. He’s a very religious person and I respect that about him. He stays composed and he plays the game how it’s supposed to be played."

Where Tebow goes from here is really on him. He is a gifted athlete, but needs the same work a newly drafted youngster would. How much time Tebow wants to dedicate to his newfound career will determine what level of minor league ball he one day reaches.

Where ever he goes, though, he will clearly bring fans to the park. Hopefully that opened up some eyes to some of the special prospects on the Rome Braves roster.