The Portland Sea Dogs already were expecting big crowds for their opening home weekend April 13-15.

Now sellouts are likely.

Tim Tebow appears headed to Hadlock Field.

Tebow, the NFL quarterback turned outfielder, is expected to be on the Binghamton Rumble Ponies’ roster when the Eastern League season begins next week, the New York Post reported Monday.

Last year Tebow helped set attendance records at minor league parks, drawing an average of an extra 2,500 fans per game on the road.

The Sea Dogs open the season April 5 in Binghamton. The Rumble Ponies, a Double-A affiliate of the New York Mets, will come to Portland the following weekend.

“We knew it could happen,” said Chris Cameron, the Sea Dogs’ vice president, “but we certainly weren’t counting on it.”

Tebow, 30, is trying to reach the major leagues after winning the Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida and starring briefly at quarterback for the Denver Broncos. The Mets signed him to a minor league contract in September 2016, with a $100,000 signing bonus.

Last year Tebow played on two Class A teams for the Mets, the lower Class A Columbia (South Carolina) Fireflies and the advanced Class A St. Lucie (Florida) Mets. While Tebow’s success was limited to a combined .226 average, with 126 strikeouts, his popularity helped set attendance records.

Tebow, known for his charitable ways and Christian faith, helped the Fireflies to a 21 percent increase in attendance and the St. Lucie Mets to a 37 percent bump.

On the road, opposing teams attracted an average of 2,591 more fans.

The Greenville Drive, the low Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, averaged 4,811 at home, not counting the Columbia games. In three games against the Fireflies from June 13-15, the Drive averaged 6,776 fans, including a team-record 7,415 on the third day.

“We were just jam-packed,” said Drive General Manager Eric Jarinko, whose stadium seats 7,500.

“The amount of fans who wanted to get close to him was unbelievable. We had to have extra security just to be around him.”

The Double-A Rumble Ponies certainly will welcome Tebow. The team was last in attendance in the Eastern League last year with an average crowd of 3,289, compared to league-leader Reading with 6,054 or Portland’s 5,653 average.

Typically the Sea Dogs’ lowest-attended games are in April, except for the home opener. But this year, even without Tebow, the team has sold more tickets than usual. Cameron said about 1,200 tickets remain for each of the first three games. Hadlock’s capacity is 7,368.

“In honor of our 25th season, we came up with a sponsorship plan,” Cameron said. “We wanted to have full crowds all weekend long.”

If Tebow is coming, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Tebow isn’t the first crossover athlete to attract big crowds while playing minor league baseball.

Michael Jordan, the former NBA star, helped the Birmingham (Alabama) Barons set a club attendance record (6,884 average) when he played in 1994 (on a team managed by Terry Francona). Jordan returned to the NBA early the next year.

Normally a player isn’t promoted to Double-A off the kind of season Tebow experienced in 2017. But his age has him on a faster track.

The Mets invited him to major league spring training camp this year, but he batted only .056 in seven games (1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts).

When Tebow played in Greenville last year, he recorded a hit in each game, but that mattered little to the fans.

In his first at-bat, he hit a 30-foot grounder to the pitcher, was thrown out and received a standing ovation. “It was just crazy,” Jarinko said.

The fans came to see Tebow and he was accommodating.

“I don’t know how many autographs he signed,” Jarinko said. “He was incredibly gracious. He signed almost until the starting lineups were announced, and then 35 to 40 minutes after the game ended.”

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.