PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) Tim Tebow made his first rookie mistake even before stepping into the batter’s box.
The New York Mets newcomer walked behind home plate and took his practice swings near Boston’s on-deck circle.
”I didn’t know who that was back there. I thought it was the ball boy,” AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello said.
Tebow’s debut as a big leaguer didn’t go much better Wednesday.
The former NFL quarterback went 0 for 3, twice looking at strike three and also grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in a spring training exhibition against the Red Sox.
Tebow did safely reach when he was hit by a pitch in the right shoulder. But his stay on base was brief – he got doubled off first on a line drive.
”It was a first day for me getting to compete. I’ll learn a lot from it. It’s kind of what I expected from a competition level,” he said.
The 29-year-old Tebow batted eighth as the designated hitter. Signed last fall, he’s in camp on a minor league contract, hoping to make it as an outfielder. He’s next scheduled to play for the Mets in a split-squad game Friday against Houston, and manager Terry Collins said Tebow would be in the field.
Tebow’s day started out with a fun-filled morning stretch. He was loudly welcomed by slugger Yoenis Cespedes and kidded by Pittsburgh native Neil Walker – the second baseman barbed Tebow for once leading the Denver Broncos over the Steelers in the playoffs. Tebow warmed up by swatting a few home runs in batting practice.
To say Tebow’s first game was a success, however, would be a stretch. He did, at least, get to slap high-fives on the field after an 8-7 win in front of 6,538 fans.
”With almost anything I do, I get a little nervous because I care about it, the outcome and my teammates,” Tebow said. ”But I’d also get nervous if I was going to talk to a high school football team before a game.”
Tebow was set to lead off the third inning for his first at-bat. The lefty hitter emerged from the Mets’ dugout on the third base side and crossed over to the Boston side, drifting toward the Red Sox on-deck circle and inching his way into Porcello’s view.
”I thought you walked around because you’re a left-hander. I found out you don’t do that,” he said.
The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner then faced Porcello, prompting some to figure out another matchup between Heisman and Cy Young winners – Bo Jackson vs. Frank Viola, for example.
Tebow drew a nice cheer when he stepped in wearing a No. 97 jersey with no name on the back. He swung late on a fastball to fall behind and was caught looking at a 92 mph heater on a 1-2 count. He had a friendly word and smile for plate umpire Ryan Additon after being called out.
Tebow came up next with the bases loaded and bounced into a double play against Noe Ramirez. A run scored on the grounder, but Tebow didn’t get credit for an RBI.
The third time up, Tebow was plunked in the right shoulder by a pitch by fellow University of Florida alum Brian Johnson.
”Come on, where’s the love?” Tebow kidded. ”No, it’s fine.”
”I’ve been good at taking hits most of my career. That might come easier than anything else,” he said.
L.J. Mazzilli followed with a line drive to second baseman Deven Marrero, whose throw to first beat Tebow. Righty reliever Brandon Workman fanned Tebow on three pitches in the eighth, getting him looking with a curveball.
Before the game, Boston manager John Farrell watched from the top step of the visitors’ dugout as Tebow hit some long drives, the majority the opposite way at First Data Field.
Farrell said Tebow’s attempt to make it in baseball, which he last played as a junior in high school before joining the Mets last August, is a bold ambition but reveals plenty about his character.
”It says he’s not afraid of failure, and that’s great for any athlete,” Farrell said. ”Athletes are all going to become vulnerable in their performance at some point, and for who’s been such a high profile in another sport come in and say, `Hey, I’m willing to take a run at this,’ I think it’s a pretty cool thing.”
”When you look at the raw power in BP, it’s pretty evident. It says you’ve got some pretty good hand-eye coordination. (Baseball’s) hard for a guy who plays every year,” he said. ”When you have that kind of gap, I think it’s a window into the mindset that anything is possible. Why not take a run with it?”
NOTES: Mets starter Noah Syndergaard said he’s trying to work on a softer landing in his delivery and wasn’t happy with his outing. He gave up three hits and a walk in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. ”I’m not pleased how erratic I was and how nitpicky I am around the zone right now with my pitches.” . OF Jay Bruce connected off Porcello for his first homer of the spring in the fourth inning, a shot that caromed off a light pole. . The Mets held a moment of silence for longtime team broadcast director Bill Webb, who died on Tuesday at 65 after a bout with cancer.
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