- - Friday, March 2, 2018

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA. – It was the kind of novelty act you’ll see from time to time in spring training baseball – one that has star power, even if those stars are crossed.

It was Max Scherzer vs. Tim Tebow – power vs. pious.

Score another one for the Lions.

The home New York Mets crowd at First Data Field woke up from its sun-induced coma early in Friday afternoon’s exhibition contest against the Washington Nationals when, in the bottom of the second inning, the first batter to face Scherzer was Tebow – he of the 430 minor league at bats he had last year – the first organized baseball he competed in since high school.

The crowd roared when Tebow – the former Florida Heisman Trophy winner, failed NFL quarterback and high-profile Christian spokesman — stepped to the plate. By the time these senior citizens managed to sit back down 45 second later, Tebow was out – called strike one, swinging strike two, and a called strike three.

Tebow appeared to say something to home plate umpire Jerry Meals as he left the plate. I doubt it was, “Have a blessed day.”

AUDIO: Washington Senators slugger Frank Howard with Thom Loverro

As Tebow walked back to the Mets dugout, Scherzer stomped off the back of the mound, as if insulted to be part of the circus that is Tim Tebow – future major league ballplayers – that the Mets are selling.

He had a little something special for Tebow.

“Yeah, I’m pitching,” Scherzer said. “Yeah, I mean, it’s not as much. There aren’t as many fans here this time. But yeah, anytime in the season, anytime the fans start cheering, that always starts the adrenaline. It doesn’t matter the situation.”

The situation was that Scherzer faced nine batters over three innings, struck out five, including the side in the third inning, and didn’t allow a ball to get out of the infield. In other words, Jay Bruce, Adrian Gonzalez and the other Mets didn’t fare any better than Tebow.

“I’m out there trying to get him out,” Scherzer said. “I’m working on my instincts, what I think I need to do to get him out. So just working with (catcher Matt) Wieters going over different things we’re trying to accomplish today. I thought we were able to do that. There were some good things that came out of today.”

Good things happened for Tebow when Scherzer exited the game. He singled to left off Erick Fedde, his only hit in three at bats in a 2-1 loss to Washington.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Washington Nationals fifth starter.

After the game, Tebow told reporters that Scherzer was “nasty,” but “in a good way.”

Mets fans appeared to be giddy over the presence of Tebow, though maybe it was the hot sun. I know my Uncle Rocco would not have been impressed.

This trip to Port St. Lucie was a pilgrimage of sorts for me – it was the first time I’ve been to this stadium since my Uncle Rocco Loverro died of a heart attack in the parking lot after a St. Lucie Mets game here 29 years ago. I missed him Friday. I miss him often.

My Uncle Rocco helped introduce my passion for baseball. He gave me my first Baseball Encyclopedia – a 1954 edition. He was a character, a tough, bald-headed Italian who owned a gas station down by the Brooklyn docks, where I would go on Saturdays and watch the Mets on TV with him.

He was connected to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was at Ebbets Field when Cincinnati’s Johnny Vander Meer pitched his second consecutive no-hitter in the first night game at the ballpark. He drove a car in a season-opening parade for the Dodgers with Brooklyn pitcher Ralph Branca in the back seat.

He retired to Port St. Lucie and was elated when the Mets opened their spring training facility and minor league ballpark there in 1988. He would make his presence felt, collecting batting practice balls hit over the fence. Once a coach got so angry at him for collecting balls that he threw one at his car and put a dent in it. I proudly drove that dented car for years after he passed away.
My Uncle Rocco died too soon, but he died at the ballpark. That’s not too bad.

⦁ Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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