NEW YORK -- Pete Alonso's season began with uncertainty that he would make the team out of Spring Training. Seems like a long time ago, no? Since then, all Alonso has done is set a Mets franchise record for homers by a rookie, win two National League Rookie of the Month Awards, make his first All-Star team and earn an invitation to the Home Run Derby.
It is there, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, that he’ll face his next challenge: a bracket filled with seven of baseball’s other top power hitters. Major League Baseball officially named Alonso to the Home Run Derby field on Wednesday, matching him up with the Indians’ Carlos Santana in the first round of the bracket. Alonso was the second overall seed by virtue of his 28 home runs as of Wednesday, which trail only Christian Yelich's 31. Yelich was originally named the top Derby seed, but dropped out to due a back injury and was replaced by A's star Matt Chapman.
To make it through the field and win the $1 million grand prize, $100,000 of which he plans to donate to charity, Alonso must knock off Santana in the first round, either the Pirates' Josh Bell or the Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr. in the semifinals, and either Chapman, Houston's Alex Bregman, the Dodgers' Joc Pederson or Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the finals.
“The stakes are high, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be a blast and I feel like we’ve got a really, really damn good chance to win this thing,” Alonso said. “So we’re going to go at it, and we’re going to go at it with a full head of steam.”
There is no doubting Alonso’s power. In addition to ranking second in the Majors in home runs, Alonso is fifth in average home run exit velocity among players who have hit more than two out of the park this season. In other words, he’s crushing the ball.
It is for precisely that reason that Major League Baseball reached out to Alonso in late June, asking him to participate in the Derby. By that time, Alonso had long decided that he wanted to be a part of it.
“Watching the Home Run Derby, All-Star Game in the middle of the summer, watching those guys play, it was like, ‘Man, I want to be like those guys one day,’” Alonso said. “It’s crazy. I just hope to be a good ambassador for the game, and inspire young kids to play baseball and get there themselves one day. I don’t know how else to explain it, other than that it’s a dream.”
Alonso has twice participated in home run derbies in the past, though never on this type of stage. The first took place years ago during the Northwoods League All-Star Game, a showcase for some of baseball’s top college players. The second was a promotional event pitting him and one other player against Jose Canseco.
In that one, Alonso squared off against the fan favorite Canseco, much as he will oppose the local favorite, Santana, in the first round next week. Although Santana is the No. 7 seed in the Derby, he is on pace to hit 20-plus home runs for the seventh time in the last nine seasons, setting his career high with 34 back in 2016. Save for a one-year hiatus in Philadelphia last summer, Santana has played his entire career in Cleveland.
But Alonso will have some hometown support of his own from his cousin, Derek Morgan, an Ohio native who will pitch to him at the Derby. To practice, Morgan flew to New York this week, throwing Alonso multiple rounds of batting practice at Citi Field -- including one Tuesday in which the rookie dazzled his teammates and coaches in attendance.
“Today was money,” Alonso said after that session. “I feel like we’ve got a really good chance at winning this thing.”