By Joe Rini
The temperatures are rising but at least one polar bear is thriving in the New York City heat. Christened the “Polar Bear” by his teammates, Pete Alonso, the 6 foot 3, 245-pound power hitting first baseman, hasn’t shown any stage fright since debuting on the New York baseball stage this season and we chatted prior to Friday’s game, a 9-8 loss to the Tigers.
With 17 homeruns and 39 RBI by Memorial Day and a penchant for late inning power-hitting heroics, the “Polar Bear” has been anything but cuddly to opposing pitchers—but he’s lived up to the hype and quickly become a fan favorite. It was after Alonso had finished batting practice that he walked among the fans on the field behind the batting practice cage signing baseballs and posing for selfies that we had a chance to chat outside the Mets dugout.
I asked if he was surprised by his early season success, and Alonso admitted that he didn’t feel like he was exceeding expectations, but he spoke in terms of gratitude seeing his success as a “coming into fruition” and “justifying the hard work” he’s employed over the years.
Alonso was quick to share the credit for his current status as a favorite for Rookie of the Year. He cited his “countless coaches” over the years and the support system provided by his parents and his fiancé. “She’s been my rock,” he said.
Perhaps contrary to what some Mets might feel about Robinson Cano or Todd Frazier and their struggles early this season, Alonso particularly cited their influence on him among the “amazing guys on this team.” Guys like Cano and Frazier have been very “welcoming,” he said, describing them as an “open book” when it comes to sharing their experiences, whether it’s facing that night’s pitcher or other baseball experiences they’ve gone through multiple times.
With 11 of his 17 homers coming after the seventh inning, Alonso said, “I just want to win,” and described himself as an “extremely competitive” person who wants to be “clutch for his teammates.” In those late inning situations, Alonso said, “I don’t want one at bat to carry over to the next at bat,” whether he’s been 3 for 3 or 0 for 3. “Live in the moment,” he said.
The personable and accessible Alonso has the potential to become the face of the franchise, much like David Wright was for a decade. And if he continues to hit like he has, it’ll happen faster than the triple digit “exit velo” of some of his homeruns.
With the flurry of roster moves lately and what seems to be a steady stream of relief pitchers shuttling between Triple-A Syracuse and Citi Field, I asked manager Mickey Callaway at Friday’s pregame press conference about the challenge of maintaining a sense of cohesion and leadership on the team in such an environment.
Callaway cited the need for communication with the players and having the right guys in the clubhouse. “I think some of these guys going back and forth to Syracuse understand that’s going to happen. You have options, you’re a young kid…that’s how you build a roster,” Callaway said. He also mentioned having these types of conversations with individuals during spring training and they have embraced and accepted their roles.
“Do they get upset when they are sent down?” Callaway asked. “Absolutely…but they stay focused when they go down there,” he said, adding that they put themselves in position to contribute when they return, specifically citing reliever Drew Gagnon. “He did an unbelievable job of staying ready and now this opportunity presented itself and he’s been throwing the ball well.”