Alyson Footer

Tebow drawing crowds to Mets' spring home

Executive director of Minor League facilities predicts 'large interest' when games begin

Tebow drawing crowds to Mets' spring home

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Paul Taglieri, the Mets' executive director of Minor League facilities, used one word to describe the buzz during a typical day of instructional league this time of year.

"Crickets," he chuckled. "There's been nobody here."

That has changed this week. Where most days of instructional league workouts would attract a couple dozen spectators -- mostly family members of the players, plus maybe a scout or two -- the back fields at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, Fla. -- at least for the past three days -- have been the place to be.

That's not because of the handful of future big leaguers that may be among the many young prospects here. The 200-plus fans lined up around the fields on Wednesday were there to see Tim Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner, Florida Gator and NFL quarterback who is attempting to turn himself into a Major League ballplayer.

Attendance has dwindled since more than 600 people flocked to the facility to catch a glimpse of Tebow on Monday. But a three-day total of more than 1,000 fans and upward of 70 media members turned what would normally be a few mundane September mornings into something much more reminiscent of a typical workout day when the Mets are here during Spring Training.

"You feel like it's February 13 and pitchers and catchers are reporting," Taglieri said. "You hear the cleats on concrete. It has that Spring Training type of feel to it. It's exciting."

Never before has pickoffs, rundowns, infield popups, fly balls, sliding and batting practice generated so much interest. Imagine what will happen next week, when Tebow and his Mets teammates actually play in games against other instructional league teams.

More than 1,000 fans have come to see Tim Tebow during his first three days working out at Tradition

"I think there will be a couple hundred people watching the games," Taglieri said. "I think there will be a large interest."

The Mets plan to reveal Tebow's playing schedule for next week soon. Also scheduled? Most likely, more school-skipping and calling in sick to work among the masses. And why not? The Mets aren't changing their policies for "instructs" -- admission has been, and will continue to be, free.

The only thing for sale around here is bottled water, soft drinks and Tebow jersey and T-shirts (along with clearance items from this past St. Lucie Mets season) that are displayed at a makeshift kiosk standing just outside of the fan entrance that leads to the back fields.

Sales have been modest; Taglieri indicated the economic aspect of Tebow's extended stay in Port St. Lucie, at least on the grounds of Tradition Field, is minimal. Area businesses, however, have enjoyed a bit of a bump from Tebow fans dining at nearby restaurants on their way in and out of town.

Normally, the only busy time of year in Port St. Lucie is Spring Training/spring break.

"It's great for the community," Taglieri said. "It's great for St. Lucie County. All these people -- where are they going after here? Restaurants, they're buying gas. It's just good. It creates a buzz in the community when it's a time of year when it's quiet here. It's not quite the season yet where people are coming down from up north to live here for a couple of months. We're kind of in a time of limbo as far as that's concerned."

If there is an influx of fans who want to attend games next week, the Mets will be prepared. It's an easy task, given they host thousands per game when the Mets are here in the spring.

"Once we knew this was happening, we just re-enacted our plan from Spring Training," Taglieri said. "It's not quite staffed as much as Spring Training would be, but when we opened up on Monday, we wanted to get a sense of what it was going to be like and then make adjustments on the fly."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.