Phillies

Tim Tebow hits home run in 1st at-bat as Mets minor leaguer

Tim Tebow hits home run in 1st at-bat as Mets minor leaguer

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Of course he did.

Tim Tebow hit a home run in his first official at-bat as a New York Mets minor leaguer, a charmed start Thursday night for a popular yet polarizing athlete who seems to have a knack for these remarkable moments.

Playing a sport where many thought he didn't even belong in the batter's box, the former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner launched a two-run drive for the Columbia Fireflies in a Class A South Atlantic League game against Augusta. It was his only hit in five plate appearances.

"All of my sports experiences helped me for moments like that," Tebow said.

With a 15 mph wind blowing out, Tebow hit a shot just over the 372-foot sign in left-center field. He stopped at second base, thinking it was a double -- but the ball hit a railing above the fence at the Bojangles Berm, and an umpire twirled his hand to indicate it was a homer.

Tebow spent an hour in the batting cage before batting practice Thursday with the hitting coach hitting fastballs away to the opposite field. Then on the fourth pitch, he got one.

"It definitely felt good because that is something we worked on so much today," Tebow said laughing.

Tebow clapped and pumped his fist in the air as he rounded the rest of the bases in the second inning as the crowd, already going wild, went into a frenzy. His teammates rushed the dugout railing, waiting for him. He laughed when he talked about one of his teammates saying it was the best thing he had ever experienced.

"Special things happen to special people. And that was a special moment," Columbia manager Jose Leger said.

The 29-year-old Tebow played three seasons in the NFL, highlighted by a playoff touchdown pass in overtime that lifted the Denver Broncos over Pittsburgh. A two-time national champion at the University of Florida, he left football for broadcasting after the 2012 season.

Tebow later tried out with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, but got cut in training camp. He then decided to pursue a career in a sport he last played as a junior in high school, signing a minor league deal with the Mets.

Last fall, in the Instructional League, he also homered his first time up. But in spring training for the Mets, Tebow batted .148 in 27 appearances. He struck out eight times and didn't have an extra base hit or an RBI.

The lefty-hitting Tebow homered off Augusta lefty Domenic Mazza, a 22-year-old who had an 11-3 career record in the minors after playing at UC Santa Barbara. Mazza was the 666th pick in the 2015 draft.

In Tebow's second at-bat, he couldn't beat out a slow roller to the shortstop. He struck out the next three times up -- two of them looking.

"There will be a lot of highs and lows in this game. That's why you can't make too much of anything," Tebow said.

Columbia beat Augusta 14-7, with the Fireflies hitting three home runs.

Tebow was batting seventh for the Fireflies and starting in left field in a league that typically uses 21- or 22-year-olds early in their pro careers.

Tebow sort of fits that mold. He hasn't played organized baseball since his junior year of high school. He concentrated on football, winning the Heisman as a sophomore for Florida in 2007.

He then went to the NFL. In 2011, Tebow lifted the Broncos over the Steelers with an 80-yard TD pass on the first play of overtime. Tebow was traded to the New York Jets the next season, throwing only eight passes.

But maybe it's Columbia that suits Tebow well. With the Gators, he accounted for seven touchdowns, threw for 304 yards and ran for 120 more as Florida beat South Carolina about 3 miles away at Williams-Brice Stadium 51-31 in the 2007 game that cemented his Heisman Trophy campaign.

Columbia is embracing the man it once rooted against. Noelle Colligan stood in a line at least a dozen people deep to buy a new No. 15 Tebow Fireflies jersey. She became a Tebow fan watching his march to the 2007 Heisman Trophy. The University of South Carolina student put on the jersey before the game started.

Then, as Tebow came to the plate, she leaned over and told a friend with the wind blowing out and Tebow's amazing career so far, she just knew he would hit one out.

"It's just not who he is as an athlete. It's his whole character. It's what he believes. It's the good work he does," said Colligan, who volunteered in February with a local special needs prom put on by the Tim Tebow Foundation.

In the Fireflies merchandise shop called The Mason Jar, employees were restocking the racks with the Tebow jerseys well into the night.

Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

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AP Images

Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

The Phillies added four promising pitching prospects to their 40-man roster on Monday. In a corresponding move, they subtracted a notable name.

Right-handers Franklyn Kilome, Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Taveras and lefty Ranger Suarez were all added to the roster, protecting them from being selected by another club in next month's Rule 5 draft.

The Phillies also added an infielder, Engelb Vielma, to the roster. He was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants.

To make room for these additions, the team needed to clear three spots on its roster, which had been at 38. Left-handed pitcher Elniery Garcia cleared waivers and was sent outright to the minor leagues while right-handers Alberto Tirado and Mark Appel were designated for assignment. The Phillies will try to trade Tirado and Appel before placing them on waivers. If they clear waivers, they could stay in the system.

The Phillies cut Appel loose after he'd struggled with injury and ineffectiveness during two seasons in the organization. The 26-year-old right-hander from Stanford University had twice been a first-round draft pick, by Pittsburgh in 2012 and by Houston — No. 1 overall — in 2013. The Phillies acquired him from the Astros as part of the package for Ken Giles in December 2015, but he never lived up to his huge potential.

"A lot of the tools that Mark showed as an amateur that led to him being the No. 1 overall pick are still there," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "He has simply struggled with performance. It's certainly not for lack of effort on his part. We think the world of the kid and wish him well. It was a tough decision."

Tirado, 22, was acquired from Toronto in July 2015 as part of the return for Ben Revere. He arrived with a fastball that could reach triple digits on the radar gun and that promise earned him a spot on the 40-man a year ago. Tirado suffered a shoulder injury early last season and struggled in the minors.

All four of the pitchers that the Phillies protected are products of the team's international scouting department. Taveras, 24, was a standout at three levels in the minors last season and could be in the picture in Philadelphia in 2018. He led the system in strikeouts in 2016 and 2017.

"He knows how to get guys out and often times that comes via the strikeout," Klentak said. "No matter where he pitches, he rises to the occasion and puts up a strong performance."

Kilome, 22, and Dominguez, 22, are both power arms who project to see significant time at Double A in 2018. Suarez, 22, should also get to Double A at some point in 2018. He had a 2.27 ERA in 22 starts at two levels of Single A ball in 2017.

"He may have been the breakout pitcher of the year for the Phillies," Klentak said. "We'd always heard a lot about him and this year he took his performance to another level.

"We're really excited for all four of these guys. All have worked extremely hard and they are all deserving of being added to our roster. Our international scouting operation, Sal Agostinelli and his group, continues to crank out players. They've done a great job. These four pitchers have earned this through their work ethic and performance. By no means is this the ultimate goal for them, but it's one step closer. We believe really strongly in the futures of these four pitchers."

Vielma, 23, is a top defensive shortstop who can also play second and third base. He was waived by Minnesota in September and claimed by the Giants, who let him go in a roster crunch.

"He's an intriguing claim," Klentak said. "He adds depth to our infield."

The Phillies’ roster is at 40. The team will have to clear space if it wants to add a player in next month's Rule 5 draft. Last November, the Phils added 11 players to the 40-man roster and still lost lefty reliever Hoby Milner to Cleveland. Milner failed to make the Indians' opening-day roster, returned to the organization in March and ended up making 37 appearances for the big club after coming up in late June. He was one of 12 rookies to make their big-league debut with the Phillies in 2017.

Notable players who were not protected include outfielders Carlos Tocci and Andrew Pullin and pitcher Brandon Leibrandt.

"One of the byproducts of a strong system is every year there are some tough omissions," Klentak said. "There are always tough calls. But we look at that as a good problem to have."

New details emerge in investigation into Roy Halladay's death

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USA Today Images

New details emerge in investigation into Roy Halladay's death

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Retired star pitcher Roy Halladay sped his small sports plane low over the Gulf of Mexico minutes before his fatal crash two weeks ago, climbing sharply in the final seconds before diving into the water, federal investigators said in a preliminary report released Monday.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Noreen Price placed no blame for the Nov. 7 accident near Tampa, simply laying out the facts as gleaned from the plane's data recorder and eyewitnesses. A final report with conclusions could take one to two years.

Price says Halladay, 40, had taken off from a lake near his Tampa-area home about 17 minutes before the crash, taking his ICON A5 to 1,900 feet (580 meters) before dropping to 600 feet (180 meters) as he neared the coastline. He then dropped to 36 feet (11 meters) when he reached the water. While flying at about 105 mph (170 kph), Halladay skimmed the water at 11 feet (3.3 meters), flying in a circle before climbing to 100 feet (30 meters), the plane's data showed.

A witness told investigators the plane climbed to between 300 and 500 feet (95 to 150 meters) when it turned and went into a 45-degree dive. It slammed into the water and flipped.

Halladay's body was found with the plane, which was severely damaged. The plane itself was equipped with a parachute, but it was not deployed.

The former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies star had received the plane from ICON on Oct. 10, and was one of the first to receive the model. In one of many enthusiastic tweets about the plane, Halladay said it felt "like flying a fighter jet." He had about 700 hours of flight time after getting his license in 2013, the report says. He had 51 hours in ICON A5s, including 14 in the plane that crashed.

Rolled out in 2014, the A5 is an amphibious aircraft meant to be treated like an ATV, a piece of weekend recreational gear with folding wings that can easily be towed on a trailer to a lake where it can take off from the water.

The man who led the plane's design, 55-year-old John Murray Karkow, died while flying an A5 over California's Lake Berryessa on May 8, a crash the NTSB attributed to pilot error.

Another A5 crashed in April, making a hard landing in the water off Key Largo, Florida, injuring the pilot and his passenger. The pilot told investigators the plane descended faster than he expected.

Halladay, an eight-time All-Star, pitched a perfect game and a playoff no-hitter in 2010. He played for the Blue Jays from 1998 to 2009 and for the Phillies from 2009-13, going 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA.