They call Pete Alonso the Polar Bear, a nod to his build, kindly personality and the fact he appears to be eminently huggable.
The New York Mets first baseman has also provided another reason for the team’s fans to adore him – and for opponents to fear him.
On Sunday in Kansas City, Alonso, the reigning Home Run Derby champion, broke the National League record for most home runs in a season for a rookie by clubbing his 40th off the Royals’ Jacob Barnes in the ninth inning of the Mets 11-5 win.
Alonso breaks the previous record set by Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017. Bellinger leads the Major Leagues in homers this season with 42. Mike Trout and Christian Yelich have 41.
“It’s crazy,” said Alonso. “I just gotta go back to the days of spring training when I didn’t know if I was gonna make the team out of camp or not. I’m just extremely thankful for this opportunity, and this has been such an incredible year. I just wanna keep building and help this team win.”
Alonso is right about his circumstances. There was every reason to believe coming into spring training that the Mets would give him more time to season in Triple-A and hand the first baseman job to Dom Smith, their former No. 1 draft pick.
Alonso had other ideas. He had a spectacular spring, making it impossible for the Mets to overlook him. And his power bat has remained just as lethal with the season’s stretch run approaching.
The record-breaking homer came on an 0-2 pitch, a fastball up in the zone, a pitch Alonso has often struggled with.
“I was just trying to hit the ball hard like I have been,” said Alonso, who is the first Mets player to hit 40 home runs in a season since Carlos Beltran hit 41 in 2006. “Take good, quality swings at good pitches and, thankfully, he gave me a fastball up in the zone, which I like to swing at.”
Alonso is now one homer away from the Mets club record shared by Carlos Beltran (2006) and Todd Hundley (1996).
“It says you can’t count anybody out,” said Mets manager Mickey Callaway. “Especially a guy who does everything right and works hard. If you said [he would set home run records] three years ago or even when you saw him two years ago in spring training, people would have looked at you like you had two heads.
“That is a lot of hard work and dedication and you have to be so proud for a kid like that. … “It’s great. He works so hard. He’s never going to be satisfied. He’s such a hard worker and he cares about the team and he plays the game the right way. So we’re all happy for him.”
It’s conceivable he could approach Aaron Judge’s MLB record for rookies (52 in 2017) with one month left in the season. Alonso’s 40 are third-most in a rookie season in Major League history, trailing only Judge and Mark McGwire (49, 1987).
“That’s even more mind-boggling,” Alonso said. “I’m just really grateful. Grateful and thankful and happy that I’ve had this opportunity.”
Thanks to guys like Alonso and Jeff McNeil, who is tied for fourth in MLB with a .332 batting average, the Mets (64-60) have rallied to the point they are now in a three-way tie in the NL Wild Card race
“To break this record and have a good season and keep playing the way I have been playing and just try to help this team win, this season has been unbelievable,” said Alonso. “It has been a dream come true so far.”
Alonso has even prevailed the face of a recent slump which has seen his strikeout total soar to 133.
“It’s been impressive to see him deal with some short periods of struggling,” outfielder Michael Conforto told the New York Daily News. “His head doesn’t get too big when he’s playing really well. He’s real even-keeled.”
Following the game, Alonso had the home run ball propped up in his locker courtesy of the fans who caught the ball. Alonso gave them a signed bat, cleats and autographed baseballs.
“I’m just really thankful that they did that,” Alonso said of the fans. “That was a real classy move, for sure.”