PORT ST LUCIE — Tim Tebow made his professional baseball debut Monday on the same day he slammed the door on his NFL career.
Tebow, who was greeted by hundreds of fans at the first New York Mets Instructional League session, quickly found out the difference between the intensity of a football practice and the more laid-back style of a baseball workout.
“Football is go, go, go,’’ he said. “Your body has to adjust a little bit, too.’’
The former Nease High quarterback did a lot of standing around in a 2½ hour practice that started with conditioning drills and then featured such basic fundamentals as leading off first base and catching fly balls.
He also took some batting practice, though the coach wasn’t throwing that hard several feet in front of the mound. Tebow hit three drives off the fence.
He said he loved every minute of it.
Wearing his familiar No. 15 jersey, Tebow said, “I felt totally like a kid.’’
Tebow was the oldest of the 58 players at 29. Most were in their early 20s and some were teenagers including two 17-year-olds from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
He was also the biggest player at 255 pounds.
The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Florida was cheered each time he took a stint in batting practice and ended the session by signing autographs for fans.
Tebow called the support “humbling’’ and said he’s “always grateful for the platform’’ it gives him when he does such charitable things as visiting hospitals.
After being cut by the Jets, Patriots and Eagles in recent years, Tebow said he would reject an offer now if an NFL team called.
“I’m part of the Mets family now,’’ he said.
There was speculation the Patriots might call because they need a quarterback and he’s familiar with their system.
New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels drafted Tebow when he was the Broncos coach and Tebow was in the Patriots training camp.
But he said the Patriots didn’t call.
He added that the lows of his life like being cut three times helped fans relate to him more than the highs. He writes about some of the lows in his new book “Shaken’’ that will be released next month.
Talking about getting cut by the Patriots, he remembers walking into coach Bill Belichick’s office and being told, “You’re not [good] enough.’’
“Every single person in this room and every single person probably in life goes though times when they’re told they’re not good enough,’’ he said. “Or you get dumped by a girlfriend, boyfriend or you have to go through tough times or you feel like things in your life are shaken.
“When I [went] through some of the highs in my life, less people could relate to me than when I went through some of the lows,’’ he said. “I’m so grateful for those lows because I feel like it helps me with my testimony and relating to me that much more because a lot of people know what it is like to get fired from a job.’’
Tebow said his goal is to make the major leagues and feels he’ll have little trouble getting back in a baseball groove despite an 11-year absence from the game.
“I feel it comes back super fast,’’ he said. “You’re never that far away from the sport.
“The goal is to play in the bigs. I don’t know if there’s a backup goal.’’
Although some players like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders played baseball at the same time in the prime of their careers, it’s almost unheard of for a player to make it to the majors after not playing the sport for over a decade.
Even Michael Jordan, one of the best athletes of his generation, couldn’t do it.
Tebow said the Jordan experience hasn’t deterred him.
“I thought it was awesome,’’ Tebow said.
“I loved it. I loved it that he went out there and tried it. And then he went back and got three more [NBA] championships. That’s cool, too.’’
He’s also not worried about the grind of minor league baseball, the long bus trips and indicated his life isn’t as glamorous as many people think it is.
“Two months ago I was in the Philippines for three weeks and hiking mountains to get to villages that no one has been before,’’ he said. His parents were missionaries and he was born in the Philippines.
“The bus won’t be the hardest thing I’ve done in my life,’’ he said.
He also has something to prove.
“I guess I have a little chip [on his shoulder]. It’s not really the naysayers. I want to prove the coach is right and the Mets organization is [for giving him a chance],’’ he said. “I’ll try to be the best baseball player I can. More importantly the best person I can be. I let that stuff roll off my shoulder a lot easier now. I’m doing it to pursue what’s in my heart and live out a dream. Live life to the fullest.’’