Toledo, Ohio — Hoards of extra fans are expected for the Toledo Mud Hens home series this weekend against the Tim Tebow traveling road show.
Bret Whitaker will not be one of them.
The Mets fan from Columbus, Ohio, isn’t buying the hype for the Syracuse Mets outfielder, as the former college football star is making his only summer appearance at Fifth Third Field.
“I’m not a Tebow fan,” Whitaker said Monday, attending his first Mud Hens game with his Mets shirt on and his 6-year-old son, Beckett, with him. “I think it’s more of a publicity stunt by the Mets more than anything, in my opinion.
“If he was not playing, I would be more likely to show up.”
One year after making the Eastern League All-Star Game in Double-A, Tebow is having his worst season as a pro in Triple-A.
Entering Thursday’s game in Indianapolis, the 31-year-old former quarterback was hitting .157 with four home runs in 229 at-bats, striking out 93 times.
Despite a Tebow-related bump this season of more than 500 fans per game, Syracuse lags as the third-worst home attendance in the 14-team International League with a 4,768 average turnout. Toledo enters the weekend with nine sellouts and is eighth in the league with a 6,608 average.
Mud Hens spokeswoman Andi Roman said limited seats are available for Friday's game, standing-room only is available for Saturday and tickets remain for Sunday.
Terry Dale of Blissfield was in Toledo on Monday for his 20th Mud Hens game of the season — 31st overall if you throw in nine Tigers games, one Double-A game in Erie and the Futures Game over the All-Star break in Cleveland.
Dressed in his Tigers' Mikie Mahtook jersey — his friends call him the “Night Stalk,” a nod to Mahtook’s “Night Hawk” nickname and Dale’s propensity to get pictures with Tigers players and prospects — Dale is a minor league fanatic through and through.
He understands the developmental nature of the farm system, but also the necessary help at the box office that Tebow provides.
“I know Syracuse is in a tough situation — really don’t want to demote him, really can’t cut him,” Dale said. “From a PR standpoint, it’s a no-win situation. If they cut him, they’re doing the wrong thing. If they keep him on the roster, they’re doing the wrong thing. He’s taking up a roster spot for somebody who should be up there.”
The former Heisman Trophy winner for Florida and three-year NFL pro with Denver and the New York Jets, who also made cameos with New England and Philadelphia, has played 52 games for Syracuse in left field and 15 as a designated hitter.
Tebow’s presence has drawn fans across the IL, including religious fans impressed with his faith, others enchanted by his good looks, and curious fans wanting to see a Michael Jordan-esque notable piece of minor league baseball history.
After pinch-hitting and batting twice on Monday against Indianapolis, Tebow sat out Tuesday and Wednesday for the Mets.
Hundreds came for autographs more than an hour before Monday’s game but didn’t get them.
“I think it’s just part of it, and honestly I don’t make too much of it,” Tebow told reporters on Monday about the attention. “It’s really not too big of a deal for me, and I think that’s how we try to keep it.”
Tebow, 31, is also active with his Tim Tebow Foundation and as a college football analyst in the fall. He recently got engaged to Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, the 2017 Miss Universe from South Africa.
It’s a stroke of bad timing for Anabel Arregyn, who drove up about an hour north from Hamler, Ohio, for Monday’s Mud Hens game with teenage granddaughters, Shae Pedroza and Emma Pedroza. They found out about Tebow’s upcoming appearance in Toledo after already making the plans.
“We would’ve come one of those days instead,” Arregyn said. “I like him. It would’ve been neat to see him.”
Dale said he’d like to see the “hoopla” over Tebow, but if he comes out, it’ll be more to see Tigers prospects like catcher Jake Rogers, outfielder Daz Cameron and pitcher Beau Burrows, who is listed as Saturday’s probable starter.
There are other considerations.
“I’d like to because I’d really like to see (Tebow),” Dale said, “but I don’t want to sit in 115-degree heat.”
Fans can bring a water bottle from home for the weekend series, and there will be misting and cooling stations in the ballpark.
Friday and Saturday’s games are at 7:05 p.m. with Sunday’s game slated for 6:05.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.