TRENTON, New Jersey -- It's not just the top players soaking in the Eastern League's All-Star festivities this week. Keep an eye on the home dugout at Arm & Hammer Ballpark on Wednesday night and you'll spot one of the most popular faces in the stadium enjoying his own All-Star experience.
"It's very exciting," said Tommy Smith, Trenton's bat boy.
Smith, a 27-year-old with special needs, has become a familiar figure on the Yankees' Double-A affiliate. A photo of him with Tim Tebow went viral earlier this season after the Mets outfielder made a special request to have Smith swap dugouts when Binghamton was in Trenton last month.
Smith, a loyal Yankees fan, is excited to see Tebow again this week when he's in town for the All-Star Game on Wednesday. He's also quick to tell you who his favorite player is.
"Tebow," he said with a smile.
Smith's uplifting story in the Minors has made him a fan favorite in Trenton, three years after Thunder general manager Jeff Hurley offered him the job through his friendship with Smith's father, Tom. He began by working about 20-30 games a season but is now the full-time bat boy, logging 70 games a season.
"I like hanging with the team and coming to the stadium every day and just running," Smith said.
Smith recently medaled at the Special Olympics -- he's a catcher and plays softball. His father said the opportunity with Trenton remains a positive one.
"He's becoming more independent as we come here," he said. "In the beginning, we had to watch every move he made. Now it's almost where I can bring him here, drop him off and pick him up after. He knows where to go, knows where to dress, knows what to do in the dugout -- sometimes he knows what not to do, sometimes he doesn't."
Smith is certainly confident in his skills and responsibilities -- he's known to race onto the field and hug players after they've scored a run -- but he's not always easy to understand when he speaks. It wasn't a barrier, though, when he met Tebow on June 22.
"I gave him a hug and took pictures," Smith said.
"He's really cool," Tebow said during his visit last month. "I love it every time he gets a bat and he starts putting his hands up and getting crowd hype. It brings me a lot of joy to watch that and also watch the crowd react to him."
Tebow posed for a photo with Smith and tweeted it later that day. The tweet has garnered more than 36,000 likes.
Hurley said the friendship and temporary dugout switch with the Rumble Ponies nearly cost Trenton its star employee.
"There was a possible trade offer that Binghamton offered us for Tommy, but we had to obviously decline and keep Tommy's talents here in Trenton," Hurley said.
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"He was prepared to pack his bags," his dad, Tom, added with a laugh.
Smith said his favorite part of the job is working alongside his fellow bat boy, Patrick Jones. He enjoys just being with the players, putting on the Thunder uniform and running around the stadium each night. He named Billy Fleming, Mike Ford and Justus Sheffield as his favorite Thunder players.
"It's awesome," his dad, Tom, said. "Tommy is very outgoing and friendly -- he's hard to understand, but Tebow seemed to have a language and a connection with him. They just hooked up."
Tom said he wasn't surprised Tebow reached out for the bat boy swap.
"I was surprised Tommy actually switched teams," he said. "He had a lot of fun with it, it was really memorable for him. He talks about it a lot."
Hurley said he's enjoyed watching Smith grow and embrace his roll with the team.
"To me, the best part is how the team really takes to him. Our coaching staff and the fans -- he's definitely a fan favorite around here," he added. "Whenever you see him interact in the dugout, he's truly a part of the team and he works hard. He leaves sweaty and he puts in the hard work. He's one of our best employees."