Celebrity baseball player Tim Tebow did not make a huge impact on the field during his three games at Riley Park, going 2 for 12 as a hitter, including three strikeouts on Sunday.
But there’s no denying the former Heisman Trophy winner’s impact at the box office.
A crowd of 6,557 fans braved 91-degree heat Sunday to see the RiverDogs’ 5-1 win over the Columbia Fireflies, bringing the three-game total for the series to 21,145.
Tebow’s three games in Charleston – 7,257 people came out on Friday, and 7,331 on Saturday – drew the RiverDogs’ three largest crowds of the season.
Tebow, who won two national titles and the Heisman at Florida before a six-year NFL career, has had a similar impact throughout the South Atlantic League.
“I love it, I’m a big fan of it,” RiverDogs president Dave Echols said of Tebow-mania. “By all accounts, both he and the team have been easy to work with, and the fans really seem to enjoy it. They’re excited when he comes to bat, and there are more butts in the seats.”
The RiverDogs held their Salute to the Negro Leagues this weekend, with both teams wearing throw-back uniforms on Sunday.
“That’s normally one of our biggest weekends,” Echols said, “so we were expecting good crowds, but not 7,000 people. He’s certainly added a couple of thousand people here for us. We’ve had a little fun at his expense, and he’s played along with it, so it’s been a win-win for us.”
Tebow, 29, finished the SAL’s first half of the season with a .224 batting average, with three home runs and 21 runs batted-in. Various reports have speculated that the New York Mets will promote Tebow for the season’s second half, perhaps to St. Luice of the high Class A Florida State League.
“Everybody is hearing those rumors,” Echols said. “And if that’s the case, he’ll probably be in high A or Class AA after the break. For somebody trying to get back into the game at his age, they probably have to push him through pretty quickly and see how he reacts.
“After being exposed at this level, he could do a lot better at a higher level, you never know. From that standpoint, they have to give him a shot, in my opinion, because of his age. See what he has and see if he still has the passion and interest to keep trying.”
Tebow, 2 for 8 in the first two games in Charleston, tapped back to the pitcher in his first at-bat Sunday, then struck out three times. He went down looking in his last at-bat, with two runners on in the ninth.
The RiverDogs trailed 1-0 in the sixth before an RBI double by Blake Rutherford and a run-scoring single from Estevan Floria gave Charleston a 2-1 lead.
The RiverDogs added two in the seventh on a two-run double by Donny Sands, and Isiah Gilliam made it 5-1 in the eighth with an RBI double.
Starter Nick Green gave up one run over five innings for the RiverDogs. Matt Frawley got the win with two innings of scoreless relief, with four strikeouts.
Charleston finished the first half of the season with a 34-36 record. The Fireflies are 40-28, and still can claim the Southern Division’s first-half title with a Greenville loss at Rome on Sunday.