For the past three seasons, McNeil (nicknamed “Squirrel”) and Alonso (“Polar Bear”) have crossed paths frequently -- first at Class A Advanced St. Lucie, then on up the Minor League ladder, from Double-A Binghamton to Triple-A Las Vegas and finally the Majors. Eight months after McNeil made his debut with the Mets last summer, Alonso followed suit. Now, both are National League All-Stars, joining Jacob deGrom this week at the Midsummer Classic in Cleveland.
“It’s pretty amazing,” McNeil said. “It shows what kind of season we’ve had. We’ve been teammates the past three years, so to do it with him is exciting.”
More than that, they are good friends and key to what the Mets are trying to accomplish. McNeil and Alonso are the first pair of teammates in Major League history to make the same All-Star team within a year of their debuts, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“If you would have told us in 2017, when we were in the Florida State League together, that a couple years down the road, me and him would be going to Cleveland and be in an [MLB] All-Star Game together, we probably would have called BS on that one,” Alonso said. “When you’re in it, it’s really hard to look ahead. You’re just trying to claw your way to the next level.”
There is no doubting the All-Star credentials of either friend. McNeil, who forced his way to the Majors last year after hitting .311 over more than 1,800 Minor League at-bats, now leads the Majors with a .349 batting average in 76 games. With Brandon Nimmo sidelined due to injury, he has become the Mets’ regular leadoff hitter.
“I was batting in the nine-hole in Double-A last year,” McNeil said. “To be here now, this quickly, it’s awesome.”
Alonso, who won the T-Mobile Home Run Derby, slugged 30 homers in the first half. That tied him for third all-time among Major League rookies before the All-Star break, while his 68 RBIs set an NL record for rookies in the first half.
“They’re impressive,” deGrom said. “Both have good approaches. Pete’s got crazy amounts of power, and Jeff is a master of hitting it where people aren’t standing.”
It’s a combination neither McNeil nor Alonso could have envisioned this time a year ago, when both were named to an All-Star team for the first time -- the Double-A All-Star team. Neither participated in that game because the Mets subsequently promoted them to Triple-A -- a move that seemed a long time coming for both. New York did not call McNeil up to the Majors until late July, citing his lack of defensive versatility as the reason. The Mets did not debut Alonso until this March, citing his lack of defensive acumen.
Neither has had much issue defensively in the Majors, with McNeil succeeding at four positions and Alonso holding his own at first. Perhaps it helps for each to have the support of the other. Last month, McNeil and Alonso filmed a “Step Brothers” spoof video in an effort to garner All-Star votes. While that effort fell short, both buddies made the team as reserves -- McNeil via the player vote, Alonso as a league selection.
Those two, along with deGrom, give the Mets multiple All-Stars for the first time since 2016.
This is deGrom’s third All-Star Game, so he was able to offer some advice to his two young teammates as they prepared to head to Cleveland: Enjoy yourself.
“That’s what I’m probably going to enjoy the most, just seeing how excited they are and really rooting for them,” deGrom said. “It’s a cool experience. My first one, I don’t think I got to enjoy it as much as I would have liked to because of how nervous I was. I told them to take it in and have fun, and they seem to be doing that so far.”
Alonso, who drew one of the biggest crowds during Monday’s media availability, certainly looked like he was having a good time.
“I’m living a fantasy right now,” Alonso said. “I’m sure I sound like a broken record, but it’s true -- I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”