Tim Tebow homers to left-center in first at-bat of minor league debut

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Tim Tebow had a lot of big moments in his storied football career, and he kicked off his minor league baseball career with another, hitting a two-run homer in his first at-bat in his debut Thursday for the Class A Columbia Fireflies.

"All of my sports experiences helped me for moments like that," Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, said after the Fireflies' 14-7 victory over the Augusta GreenJackets. "Playing in The Swamp or Death Valley or in Mile High Stadium in the playoffs, they all helped.

"So much about sports is handling moments and handling pressure."

Tebow, 29, handled this moment well. He drilled a 2-1 pitch off the railing in left-center field, where a strong wind had been blowing out all day.

His only mistake was that he initially thought it was a ground-rule double, because the ball ricocheted back onto the field, and stopped at second.

As soon as the umpire motioned to circle the bases, Tebow clapped his hands as if he had thrown a game-winning touchdown.

"I thought I had a double, and the guy goes, 'Keep going,'" Tebow said. "I was, 'All right, I'll take it.' It felt good, though."

The home run came off Augusta left-hander Domenic Mazza, the No. 666 overall pick in the 2015 draft and runner-up in golf's 2010 World Long Drive Championship.

The sellout crowd at Spirit Communications Park was sent into a frenzy. But even before the homer, fans were chanting "Te-Bow! Te-Bow!'' after the former University of Florida and NFL quarterback fouled off a pitch.

The chant grew even louder as Tebow circled the bases.

Tebow later had a weak groundout to shortstop and struck out in his next three at-bats -- twice looking and then swinging in his final at-bat. He finished 1-for-5 with two RBIs.

But the home run is what most in the packed stands will remember for a player who batted .148 with eight strikeouts in 27 at-bats during spring training.

"I know so many people want to sensationalize it, but for me it's just one day," Tebow said. "One opportunity, the first of a lot of games. Tomorrow will be another opportunity to wake up and try to get better.

"For me, it's about the process. I know it sounds cliché, and I've said it a hundred times, but it is about the process and I still have a long ways to go in the process."

It was announced in August that Tebow would pursue a career in baseball after his time in the NFL fizzled. He was assigned to the New York Mets' Class A team at the end of spring training.

He always tried to envision what his first official at-bat would be like, but a home run might have exceeded those expectations.

"The big games in football have helped me for that moment, being my first at-bat in a real pro baseball game," Tebow said. "But I tried to make the most of it."

Tim Tebow finished 1-for-5 on Thursday, including a two-run home run and three strikeouts. AP Photo/Sean Rayford

Real or not? Tim Tebow steals the spotlight, Yasiel Puig mashes

Matt Harvey and Marcus Stroman pitched well, and the Minnesota Twins are undefeated, but let's head to the minors to begin our roundup.

We can't quit you, Tim Tebow.

Look, here's all I'm going to say after Tebow cracked a home run in his first minor league at-bat for the Columbia Fireflies: I don't get the people who get so angry about him playing for the New York Mets' low Class A South Atlantic League team. Yes, it's essentially nothing more than a cheap marketing stunt to sell a few extra jerseys, but the suggestion that he's costing a more-deserving player a chance at the majors is a pretty weak argument. The Mets' low-A affiliate from 2011 has seen two position players reach the majors -- Darrell Ceciliani and Wilfredo Tovar, and if you've heard of those two you're a diehard's diehard.

There's also the argument that Tebow will end up stealing some of the spotlight from actual deserving major league players. As Jayson Stark wrote the other day, baseball is lacking a face of the sport when you consider the only three baseball players to show up in a recent poll of America's 50 favorite athletes were Derek Jeter (retired), Babe Ruth (dead) and Pete Rose (banned).

While it would be nice if there were a LeBron of baseball, I don't think it's essential to the viability or even popularity of the sport. Whether fans will pay more attention to Francisco Lindor or Carlos Correa or Mike Trout or Kris Bryant has nothing to do with Tebow. Blaming the media is also a poor excuse: Fans -- maybe not you -- are interested in Tebow for reasons that I don't fully understand, but you can't ignore that many are interested.

As for Tebow the baseball player, no, he's not a legitimate prospect. After that home run, he struck out three times and grounded out.

As funny as it was, it turned out to be crucial play in the St. Louis Cardinals' 6-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs, which explains why Molina wasn't in a joking mood about it after the game. Asked if he put anything on his chest protector, Molina replied, "That's a dumb question."

Except it wasn't a dumb question! It was a very good and obvious question. Matt Szczur reached on the play, Jon Jay followed with a walk and then Kyle Schwarber launched the go-ahead three-run homer off Brett Cecil.

Of course, Cubs fans cried foul. No wonder Molina is so good! He's doctoring the baseballs for his pitchers! Yes, applying a foreign substance to the ball -- which seemed to be the case here -- is certainly illegal, but it's also one of those rules that everyone basically ignores, as long as you're not too obvious about it, like Michael Pineda a few years ago. For example, pitchers often will put a little sunscreen on their forearm to help their grip. Hitters are OK with this, not only because their pitchers are doing the same thing, but because they don't want pitchers throwing a slippery baseball. Read Mark Saxon's postgame report and you can see the Cubs weren't upset, with Schwarber even pointing out catchers often put a little pine tar on their shin guards.

Now, if the Cubs had lost the game ...

Well, we know Yasiel Puig can hit 85-mph fastballs up in the zone. OK, it was Jered Weaver pitching and Jered Weaver doesn't exactly throw hard. Still, it's always fun when Puig is doing something good, and maybe his second career two-homer game -- and first since 2013 -- will get him going this year after a slow start in 2016, when he had a .650 OPS through May with 42 strikeouts and just nine walks. He was criticized for not having any plan at the plate, and it showed in that strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also drew two walks on Thursday, which is maybe just as important a takeaway as the two home runs. I'm not quite ready to give up on a healthy Puig putting up numbers that will makes Dodgers fans happy.

You don't see this every day, but you may see it again. In spring training, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen talked about his desire to be a two-way player and manager Bryan Price suggested he'd use the reliever as a pinch-hitter at times. That plan came together when Lorenzen became the first pitcher with a pinch-hit homer since Micah Owings in 2009. It was also a big home run, giving the Reds a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the seventh. Lorenzen hit .250 (9-for-36) when he started 21 times as a rookie in 2015, but batted just five times last year -- his one hit was a home run.

Even if he can rake a bit, the difficulty will be finding situations in which to deploy him, since he has developed into the Reds' top setup guy. Price clearly didn't intend to use Lorenzen on Thursday after he had pitched on Monday and Wednesday, plus there were two outs and nobody on when he batted. If a pinch-hitter were needed to lead off an inning, Price may have used a position player more likely to get on base. At the least, in these days of short benches, and especially in the National League, where you need more pinch-hitters, having a pitcher you can use off the bench is a nice weapon to have.

Mariners fans walk to edge of cliff, decide not to jump. Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, the Seattle Mariners were staring at a season-opening four-game sweep to the Houston Astros, but they tied the game that inning and then won it with two runs in the ninth off Astros closer Ken Giles. That means I can't use this factoid: Ten teams in the division era (since 1969) had started 0-4 or worse and made the playoffs, the last being the 2012 Atlanta Braves, who started 0-4. The 2011 Tampa Bay Rays started 0-6 and still won 91 games and made the playoffs. Tricked you! I used it anyway.

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