The Charleston RiverDogs said they didn’t mean any harm when they played the "Hallelujah Chorus" every time Tim Tebow came up to bat Friday night.
And they didn’t mean to offend the former college and NFL quarterback when Charlie, the RiverDogs mascot, started “Tebowing” – a term coined during Tebow’s days at Florida when he would kneel in prayer after touchdowns.
Tebow, an outfielder for the Columbia Fireflies, traveled to Charleston last week for a three-game weekend series against the RiverDogs. His celebrity status helped the RiverDogs sell out Riley Park all three days.
Charleston pulled out all the stops while Tebow was in town. And the team is catching flack on social media, ESPN, and other media outlets for its antics.
“I guess classless things like mocking someone’s religion is something that gets @MiLB teams publicity nowadays, huh?” one person wrote on Twitter.
Another tweeted, “This is the most classless thing I’ve ever seen by a sports organization. Not a big Tebow fan but this is ridiculous.”
Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy and two national championships at Florida, also gained fame for sharing his strong Christian beliefs.
Playing off of that, the RiverDogs had several stunts Friday night. In addition to playing the "Hallelujah Chorus," they had Charlie the Mascot wear black patches under his eyes with "John 3:16" written in white, something Tebow did in college.
I've caught the Tebow fever. pic.twitter.com/l0UeNOqHQw— Charlie T. RiverDog (@charlieriverdog) June 17, 2017
Dave Echols, president and general manager for the RiverDogs, said the antics were all in good fun. He said the team has gotten both positive and negative feedback from the weekend.
“While we believe that our promotions were poking fun at Mr. Tebow's celebrity status rather than his religion or baseball career, our intent was not to offend anyone, and for the fact that we did offend, we are sorry,” Echols wrote in a statement to The Post and Courier.
The RiverDogs ribbed the former quarterback in a few other ways. During Friday night’s game, the giant video screen in right field read “Not Tim Tebow” every time a batter stepped to the plate for the Fireflies, the New York Mets' Class A affiliate. And behind the picture of the player, the RiverDogs displayed the picture of Tebow crying after his Gators lost to Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship game.
Also, the announcer would call for a strikeout when Tebow came up to bat and encourage applause when a strike was called against him.
“Of the many promotional pieces that we executed, there were a handful on Friday's game that some construed as in poor taste, and we made it a focus to remove those elements and celebrate Mr. Tebow the remainder of his time in Charleston,” Echols added.
In Columbia on Tuesday, Fireflies President John Katz said he did not read about Charleston's apology until shortly before the South Atlantic League All-Star Game began and did not have a comment.
Four groups of Fireflies fans attending the All-Star Game said they had not heard about the RiverDogs' jokes about Tebow's faith. When told about the club's antics, the Fireflies fans all thought it was good natured but appreciated Charleston's apology for anyone who might have been offended.
"I would think in a town with so many churches that the organization would have better responsibility than to do that," said Matt Dillon of Lexington. "It wouldn't bother me. They could play 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia' when I come to the plate."
Joe Vernau, a fan from Columbia wearing a "It's Tebow Time" T-shirt, said he did not think the Mets' most popular minor-league prospect would have been too offended by the RiverDogs' shenanigans.
"I think he's a good person," Vernau said. "He might laugh about it."
At least one member of crowd at Columbia's Spirit Communications Park knew a little bit about what happened at The Joe.
After shaking his head about Charlie's role in teasing Tebow, Mason— the Fireflies' silent but fluorescent green mascot — gave a thumbs up and made the shape of a heart with his hands when asked about the RiverDogs' apology.
This isn’t the first time a RiverDogs’ promotion has received widespread criticism. In 2006, the team almost went through with a Father’s Day Vasectomy Night, but that idea was eventually scrapped.
And in 2010, out-of-state fans took issue with the team’s “Go Back to Ohio” Night because they felt it alienated residents who moved to Charleston from other areas. The promotion provided a one-way ticket to the Buckeye State for the fan dressed in the most outlandish Ohioan gear.
Andy Shain contributed.