Inspiration can be found in many ways, but a common source for most sports fans is through role-models acquired at a young age. While diving catches, home-runs and perfect games are generally what attracts us to these athletes, there are instances in which something even more powerful plays a role in the experience. Rarely are we given a chance to meet our heroes, but for Tyler Hayden, a fifth-grade student at Meadow Lands Elementary, that opportunity presented itself in the most magical of ways.
On Wednesday night, the Syracuse Mets, the triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, traveled to Louisville to take on the Louisville Bats, an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. This was not a typical minor league baseball game, however, as the Syracuse Mets starting left fielder is Tim Tebow. Tebow, formerly of the National Football League’s Denver Broncos (2010-11) and the New York Jets (2013) has been selling out minor league baseball stadiums all across the country. Tyler and his father Josh were two of those fans that decided to make the 106-mile drive from Owensboro to see Tebow in action.
Tyler and Josh were both baptized on Easter Sunday at Pleasant Valley Community Church, a ceremony during which Tyler delivered a testimony expressing his love for baseball, but more importantly, his new found love for Christ.
Josh could think of no better way to solidify the experience than with a father and son trip to see Tebow, an athlete who has always been openly passionate about his faith and has sought to empower others through sport.
While en route, Tyler was overwhelmed with excitement, stating on countless occasions how he could not wait to meet Tebow. Josh said that he attempted on several occasions to reel Tyler back, expressing that there would be a stadium full of kids all in line to meet him, and not to get his hopes up too much. Tyler was relentless in his efforts, however, and just before the first pitch was to be thrown, it was actually Tebow that sought out Tyler.
Wearing the same shirt he wore during his baptism and a Mets hat, Tyler was approached by Tebow who took an unforeseen detour on his way to left field. To describe Tyler as excited would probably be an understatement, Josh said.
“I was so happy I couldn’t even stand up – I was shaking,” Tyler said. “He tipped his hat, and just saw my shirt and walked right towards me.”
The two had a brief encounter that resulted in an autograph, a picture and as Tyler put it, a big hug. The exchange concluded with Tyler giving Tebow a letter he had written, one of his baseball cards from Little League and a copy of the same testimony that he had read at church on Easter Sunday.
“I felt blessed, but a second person that felt blessed was Tim Tebow,” Tyler said.
Josh expressed joy in how Tyler has begun to carry himself, citing the countless occasions in which Tyler leads his team in prayer before a practice or a game. He was ecstatic to see all of his son’s recent efforts come to fruition.
“For Tyler to see faith on such a large scale, it almost goes without saying,” Josh said. “I can tell him all day long to live as a Christian and to lead by example on the field and in the classroom, and to do everything you can to do right, but to see something like that, it’s remarkable.”
Tebow went 0-2 at the plate with one walk and scored one run while also adding a diving catch to the highlight reel, but perhaps his greatest efforts on the night transpired on the sideline.
Tyler and Josh were full of compliments for the Mets left-fielder.
Tyler said that Tebow was really strong and extremely nice.
“I’ve met a lot of major league players and got a lot of autographs, but I’ve never had such a personable experience or met such a genuine person like that,” Josh said. “He’s one of a kind.”
Tyler’s mom Kari is a Florida native who first became a fan of Tebow during his collegiate football days at the University of Florida. She and Tyler’s twin sister, Emily, and little sister, Riley, were unable to make the trip, but Tyler was certain to bring them back a souvenir.
Tyler puts it best in the final line of the testimony that he read at church and gave to Tebow.
“I love baseball,” Tyler said. “But most importantly, I love Jesus.”