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Tim Tebow: The Palmetto State's temporary Angel in the Outfield

Tim Tebow Fireflies

Tim Tebow dons a Columbia Fireflies cap and jersey ahead of his arrival. (Photo provided)

It’s pretty clear – and a little weird – that a 29-year-old rookie will be the minor league baseball story to follow this season in the Palmetto State.

But true to his Christian beliefs, it appears that Tim Tebow will do some good off the field, even if he doesn’t do much on the field.

The Columbia Fireflies, the Class A affiliate of the New York Mets, announced last month that Tebow will be playing outfield for the team, no doubt bringing extra ticket sales with him to Spirit Communications Stadium and others he’ll visit in South Carolina and around the South Atlantic League. The question is, “For how long?”

Carolina’s Angel in the Outfield

Fireflies President John Katz doesn’t know the answer.

The franchise has minor league teams in New York and Florida that would likely see a boost in the number of people walking through turnstiles if fans knew Tebow was playing.

“We only control what happens here in Columbia, but we know we’ll be able to track and evaluate his game while he’s here,” Katz said, adding that he’s been impressed with Tebow's resolve and high work ethic.

The Heisman Trophy winner and two-time college football champion at Florida had a short stint as an NFL quarterback that included one playoff victory and a significant amount of disappointment.

He hasn’t exactly been a standout since taking off his football helmet and putting on his baseball cap. He batted .194 in the Arizona Fall Leaguel and he’s batting .167 in spring training where he's played in eight games.

Lackluster performances aside, the Mets organization may want other teams in its farm system to cash in on Tebow, who has been both praised and criticized for being so open about his Christian faith.

Despite the preseason struggles, Katz said Tebow is serious about his transition from the gridiron to the diamond. In the meantime, the Firelflies will certainly reap the financial benefits. Katz said the team has already seen an uptick in ticket and merchandise sales.

Other teams in the South Atlantic League are expecting the same.

Charleston RiverDogs President and General Manager Dave Echols put it best, saying that if Tebow sticks around long enough for a visit to the Holy City, he will put “butts in seats” for the RiverDogs, the Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees.

It’s safe to say the Greenville Drive, the Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, is thinking the same thing.

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, will have to sit this one out, since the team never plays the Fireflies. That could change if Tebow is moved up this season.

But for now, the Fireflies and the other teams can bank on Tebow bringing the gift of benevolence to their parks, and their pockets.

Vying for Victory

Beyond TebowMania, the Fireflies and the other Class A teams across the state will have their eyes on the prize that eluded each of them last season.

Meanwhile, the Pelicans will look to repeat as Class A-Advanced champions.

The RiverDogs were the only Carolina team in Class A to make the playoffs. The team fell in the semifinals to the Rome Braves, who went on to win the championship series against the Lakewood BlueClaws, an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Meanwhile, the Drive and Fireflies will have to improve on last season if they hope to take one of just four playoff slots. Both teams finished last season with sub-.500 records.

Tebow aside, there’s plenty of reasons for fans to flock into South Carolina’s minor league ballparks this season.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have a polarizing, God-fearing, former NFL quarterback stepping to the plate while you're cheering for your team – regardless of whether you want him to smack it out of the park, or take the walk of shame back to the dugout.

MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

IN THE PALMETTO STATE

Charleston RiverDogs

Classification: A

League: South Atlantic League

Affiliation: New York Yankees

Ballpark: Riley Park (6,000)

Website: riverdogs.com

Columbia Fireflies

Classification: A

League: South Atlantic League

Affiliation: New York Mets

Ballpark: Spirit Communications Park (9,000)

Website: columbiafireflies.com

Greenville Drive

Classification: A

League: South Atlantic League

Affiliation: Red Sox

Ballpark: Fluor Field (5,700)

Website: greenvilledrive.com

Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Classification: A-Advanced

League: Carolina League

Affiliation: Chicago Cubs

Ballpark: Ticketreturn.com Field (4,800)

Website: myrtlebeachpelicans.com

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.

Sports Reporter

Derrek Asberry is sports reporter with the Post and Courier. He joined the newsroom in March 2016, after three years at the Aiken Standard where he covered the Savannah River Site. He enjoys New York Yankee baseball and poker.