PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It was the first chance for Tim Tebow to show that everything he'd done was worth it -- the change of sports, the open workout for nearly every Major League team, the ensuing media and fan circus that followed everything he did. He'd played in some intrasquad games and participated in some open workouts, but Wednesday afternoon was his first chance to play in a real game.
Facing John Kilichowski, the Cardinals' 11th-round pick in 2016 out of Vanderbilt, in the first inning of Tebow's first actual game was a tangible opportunity. On the first pitch he saw, he took a high-and-outside fastball and clobbered an opposite-field home run. Tebow sprinted out of the box and ran hard around the bases, where he was greeted at home plate by his teammates, all of whom had streamed out of the dugout to celebrate with him.
Tebow finished 1-for-6, but he hit four balls hard. And really, after his first pitch of the afternoon, whatever he did the rest of the way would be only secondary. Tebow's home run came off a left-hander who had allowed only one home run to a left-hander in 47 at-bats in the Minor League season.
It was Tebow's first organized game since high school -- a loss in the Florida state semifinals that he still remembers vividly. Hundreds of fans stuck around on Wednesday even after Tebow was taken out of the game in hopes of getting an autograph -- after all, most of them were there to see him. The game went on well after his big highlight of the afternoon.
"To be honest, in the first inning, a lot of guys will take the first pitch," Kilichowski said. "I just like to get ahead in the count. I had some things I wanted to work on because it's instructs. So I went right up with a fastball, and he just hit it hard."
All of Tebow's contact went to the opposite field. The only at-bats he said he wasn't happy with were a 6-3 double play that was chopped to short and a grounder up the third-base line. Part of the reason for Tebow's bad contact was that he was admittedly a little late on his swings, but he also acknowledged that his goal was to hit balls gap to gap.
"I was going to be aggressive," Tebow said. "That was something we talked about every day here. You get a fastball, drive it. Be aggressive. That's kind of my mentality anyway."
Tebow's face had an inescapable smile as he talked about the day. He took a chance on this sport -- some might argue it was the other way around. Finally, Tebow had some evidence that it was warranted. He had some justification that his decision was well intentioned, and it all came in the form of his first professional pitch.
It was a hit that became a viral sensation before the Mets and Cardinals players on the back fields of the Mets' Spring Training complex could even finish the inning. It's not an NFL stadium, and it's not the Major Leagues. But even with the lowest of stakes, the spotlight on Tebow has gone nowhere.
"Still, you really got to lock in," Tebow said. "As a quarterback, you got to lock in. Mentally, figuring out the defense, the game plan -- there's a lot of similarities there to locking in and trying to find a pitch."
Sam Blum is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.