Hannable: Appreciate Bennett, Long for leaving New England the right way
by: John Tomase on Wed, 03/08/2017 - 5:41pm
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Rick Porcello is all business on the mound, whether there are 60,000 people screaming at him in Yankee Stadium or 18 watching a sim game on Field 6 at JetBlue Park.
But even Porcello noticed the figure inching towards the Red Sox on-deck circle as he warmed up before the third inning of what should've been a nondescript start against the New York Mets on Wednesday.
"I didn't know who it was," Porcello admitted. "I thought it was a ballboy."
It was actually the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.
DHing for the Mets and batting eighth was none other than Tim Tebow, one of the most polarizing figures in NFL history. His football dreams effectively dashed after the Patriots cut him in 2013, Tebow is attempting to transform himself into a professional baseball player, and on Wednesday he faced big-league pitching for the first time.
First up: the defending AL Cy Young Award winner. It did not go well.
Tebow struck out on four pitches against Porcello. His day ended with two Ks, a hit by pitch, a brutal pickoff at first base, and a run-scoring double play that earned him an incongruous standing ovation.
"That's a little different than what I'm used to," admitted Red Sox reliever Noe Ramirez, who induced the double play. "But he got the job done, I guess. He got that runner in."
Tebow's lack of experience was evident not only from his jersey number (a defensive lineman's No. 97) and ugly baserunning, when he strayed off first base before a lineout to second, but his attempted scouting report of Porcello before the third, which earned an earnest wave back towards his own side of the field from Mets manager Terry Collins.
"It didn't bother me," Porcello said with the shrug he shrugged after virtually every Tebow question. So what did the Red Sox ace think?
"I don't know anything about him, so I do what I do against all guys I've never faced before: attack with my fastball until they show they can hit it," Porcello said.
Porcello had more pressing concerns than Tebow on his way to the park. He attempted to take Alligator Alley across the state, but it was closed, so he tracked north around Lake Okeechobee.
"I was just trying to figure out how to get to Port St. Lucie," he said.
Facing Tebow didn't particularly move the needle for him.
"I wasn't really a college football fan," he said. "Growing up in New Jersey, you don't have a whole lot of choices. Rutgers hasn't been doing a whole lot. I'm more of an NFL guy. . . . I went to a Rutgers game vs. Virginia Tech. They punted on third down, and that was kind of it."
As for the buzz surrounding Tebow, Porcello tuned it out pretty easily.
"Even in some of the most electric environments with 40,000 people in the stands, I'm focused on what I'm doing on the mound and really don't hear a whole lot of it," he said. "I obviously heard he was going to be playing, and that was kind of it. I'm here to get my work in and go about my business."
Red Sox players, coaches, and staff lined up on the top step of their dugout before the game to watch Tebow's BP. It was more impressive than many expected, and included an opposite-field home run off the scoreboard. There's no questioning his power, though at age 29, he's got a lot of ground to make up.
"He's obviously been the talk of the town lately and guys were just pretty astonished, actually," Ramirez said. "He's got some pretty good pop. The ball comes off his bat pretty well, so obviously it was a show."
And at the end of the day, that's what this was, a show, complete with national writers from both sides of the aisle -- FoxSports baseball insider Ken Rosenthal and ESPN NFL scribe Sal Paolantonio, to name two -- in town to check out this curiosity.
"He's here for a reason, obviously," Porcello said. "He's here because he's good at baseball and can play. It's not embarrassing. It's part of the game. I fully expect him to come up there and put good swings on the ball. I don't think there's any embarrassment in that. I'm competing, he's competing. There's no difference there."