Darren Fenster may be new to managing baseball at the Double-A level, but he’s experienced something most of his Portland Sea Dogs players have not:

Tebow-mania.

When the Sea Dogs open their 25th season Thursday night in Binghamton, New York, they will not only be facing the Rumble Ponies, Double-A affiliate of the New York Mets, but also their new outfielder, Tim Tebow.

Once a very good football player – Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida and NFL quarterback – Tebow is in his second full season of playing minor league baseball. Last year, one of the Mets’ teams he played for in South Carolina was the Columbia Fireflies, who faced the Greenville Drive, managed by Fenster.

“It’s definitely a different type of atmosphere,” Fenster said. “The stadium was full by 6:30 (a half-hour before game time) and with probably more nonbaseball fans. They were Tim Tebow fans.

“In one respect, he’s an island unto himself. In another respect, he’s just another guy trying to get to the big leagues.”

Just another minor leaguer, like the Sea Dogs he’s facing.

Teddy Stankiewicz, a right-hander in his third year with Portland, gets his second straight season-opening start. Stankiewicz’s 5.03 ERA last year was a slight bump from his 4.71 mark in 2016. He has been strong in spurts, and is looking for consistency with his command.

“Just keep doing what I’m doing and don’t fix anything that doesn’t need fixing, and success will come,” Stankiewicz said.

Any strategy for facing Tebow?

“I have no idea,” Stankiewicz laughed. “It’s going to be fun.”

If good crowds translate to fun, then Tebow brings it. Even though he batted a combined .226 last year at two Class A levels, he attracted record-setting crowds. That’s good news for Binghamton, which has been last in Eastern League attendance for the past eight years. For Thursday’s opener, there were 2,000 tickets left for the 6,012-seat NYSEG Stadium.

“Anytime you play in front of more fans than not, it creates a better atmosphere,” Fenster said.

Fenster appreciated Tebow’s effort – “I truly believe he’s working as hard as he can to get to the big leagues … But at the end of the day, he’s playing on the other team, so he’s a guy we’re trying to get out.”

Drew Gagnon will start for Binghamton. A right-hander who has spent most of the past three years in Triple-A, Gagnon was originally in the Brewers’ system, traded to the Angels last year, and signed with the Mets this season as a minor league free agent.

FENSTER MANAGED in Greenville for four years, finishing with a South Atlantic League championship last season. Greenville is two levels below Portland.

“The game is the same. The attention to detail doesn’t change,” he said. “In working with more experienced players, it changes. You work with those guys without being overbearing – in ways you might be (overbearing) at the rookie level, or the Greenville level, where guys don’t have the experience.”

NEW RULES will be in effect, meaning mound visits by a player or coach will be limited to eight per game. Plus, extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.

“Personally, I don’t necessarily love it in the 10th inning,” Fenster said. “I’d like to play a couple of innings of regular baseball and maybe, if you get to the 12th or 13th innings, then you do something like that.

“It will be interesting – probably exciting for fans.

“From a health perspective, it totally helps us. I think we played three games last year, 17 innings or longer. It completely decimates your pitching staff.”

Concerning the mound visits, the Red Sox have always emphasized that catchers and pitchers communicate, even if it meant multiple mound visits.

“We’ll have to come up with signs we can use on the fly, especially if we want to switch signs,” said Sea Dogs catcher Jordan Procyshen. “We’re going to have to be prepared for it.”

The Sea Dogs are scheduled to play four games in Binghamton.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-7411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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