On the eve of Double-A Baseball’s All-Star Game, reporter Michael Kaplan revealed just how popular former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow is in the minor league with a story revealing the extent of Tebow mania.
In his extensive July 10 article, the New York Post’s Kaplan not only quotes fan after fan but also points out his AA team, the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, have had to make special allowances for all the fans that want to meet and get an autograph from their most famous player.
Tebow has brought more fans to the minors than anyone since NBA legend Michael Jordan made a brief, one-year stab at becoming a baseball player back in the early 1990s. And everywhere he goes the crowds follow, even at away games.
“We think he’s awesome,” Tebow fan Mary Ludolph, 46, told the media before a Rumble Ponies game last week. “He stands up for his Christian beliefs. We like that.”
The woman’s 16-year-old daughter, Hannah, was also on hand hoping for the player’s autograph.
“Two weeks ago, Tim caught a foul ball and flipped it to me,” Hannah said. “All the kids at school were like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ They wanted to touch it, but I wouldn’t let them. I kept it in a box in my bedroom. Tonight, I’m hoping he’ll autograph it for me.”
Since his baseball debut, story after story has noted that with Tebow on the field, attendance has soared. Last year, for instance, the Columbia Fireflies reported that Tebow drove attendance up 40 percent. ESPN noted that with Tebow on the field the number of fans in the seats roughly doubled.
An amazed Kaplan noted, “Tebow is the biggest thing to hit Binghamton since the advent of its signature dish, the spiedie — chicken breast marinated in Italian dressing, grilled up and served on French bread.”
Tebow returns the love, too. “My favorite thing about Binghamton has been the people,” the player told the paper. “Wherever I’ve been, people have welcomed me. I’ve felt the warmth, whether I’ve been in a church or going to a movie or getting gasoline or going out for dinner.”
Every game brings a hoard of fans hoping for a selfie, an autograph, a handshake, or just a smile and a nod. And the adoring fans are so common that the Rumble Ponies coaching staff has had to make provisions for all the hoopla.
The Rumble Ponies’ batting coach, Valentino Pascucci, said that the team is careful to keep things in check and make sure that their golden goose gets pulled away from his admirers without being too distracted before game time.
“He is who he is,” said Pascucci, adding that Tebow’s work ethic is top rate. “A superstar in another sport coming to play here.”
Pascucci insisted that it did not surprise him that Tebow made the All-Star team even though his stats are only a little above average for the league: “You don’t think they would play favorites, but he is a big name and the fans want to see him. And he has had recent success. You put 2 and 2 together, and it is not a shock that he made the team.”
Certainly, the famed player has detractors. But even non-fans can’t work up any hate for Tebow. And local Binghamtonites just love having Tebow in town.
“We don’t live in the world of big buildings and new teams,” said Todd Mansfield, co-owner of CoreLife, a health-food restaurant Tebow has patronized. “So he is more than just a good Double-A player coming to town. He’s a guy we wouldn’t imagine being in our town. And now he’s given us a lift and made us part of his story. You have to like that.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.