ROME - Tim Tebow may be a human inkblot test: you see in him whatever you want, and it's different for everyone. For every adoring fan, there's one waiting with a "who cares" about what the former Heisman trophy winner with the University of Florida is doing.
Lately, that's trying to carve out a minor league baseball career with the Columbia Fireflies, the single-A minor league affiliate of the New York Mets. The crowd as his team visited the Rome Braves on Monday night was decidedly in one camp: pro-Tebow, hoping for autographs, wearing his football jerseys and cheering him far louder than any other player.
"I don't really try to think about it or have anything to do with it," said Tebow of the attention. "If I have the opportunity to make some people smile or happy by shaking hands or signing an autograph, that's pretty awesome."
It's hard to pin down why, but Tebow really strikes a chord with people -- a positive one for most fans in Rome this week; though many see him negatively as well.
"I'm a Christian, he's a Christian, very strong in his faith," said Graham Wisener from Rome, holding a Denver Broncos jersey from Tebow's time there. "It's a great role model for me."
Tebow's NFL career was shorter than he'd hoped, perhaps in part due to all the attention that came along with a player just fighting to make a roster. He says, sure, at times he wishes he could just be one of the guys, riding the bus with his Fireflies teammates, grinding out at-bats and trying to make it in baseball.
"I think everything has its pros and cons," said Tebow. "Sometimes, that can be a con. It be something where, you just want to go out and compete, right? But you can't just have the pros without the cons."
"With that, I still get to go into a hospital and make a kid smile," Tebow continued. "Still get to have [Make-a-Wish] kids. That's special. That's bigger than a game. That's something I hold very near and dear."
His teammates seem to be enjoying the ride as well. They may be overshadowed by their teammate who doubles as an ESPN football commentator; but they're also getting to play in front of huge crowds every night, a rare luxury in the lower minor leagues.
"Everywhere we go, we hear, 'hey it's going to be sold out tonight, it's going to be sold out this series,'" said Fireflies pitcher Cameron Griffin, originally from Jonesboro.
As for Tebow, he says the goal now is simply to get better. He's batting below .200 on the season, but does have a pair of home runs and 9 RBIs so far with Columbia. The major leagues are a long way off, but he says so far, he's enjoying the ride.
"I'm someone that puts everything on a whiteboard, thinks about it, prays about it and gets a lot of counsel," said Tebow of his decision to give baseball a try. "Every time I'd think about baseball I'd get really excited. You can't manufacture that."