As teen, Alonso made a promise; as HR Derby icon, he's keeping it

July 10th, 2023

NEW YORK -- Back when was around 13 or 14 years old, just before he entered high school, he was sitting at home in Florida when his travel ball coach, Mike Friedlein, hit up his phone.

“Are you watching the Derby tonight?” Friedlein asked, as Alonso recalled the conversation.

“Duh,” Alonso responded. “Of course.”

The two got to talking. Both loved the Derby. From that mutual interest grew what felt an idle daydream: Were Alonso ever to make the Majors, qualify for an All-Star team and participate in the Home Run Derby himself, Friedlein would pitch to him.

“It’s kind of like a daydreamy thing when you’re 14 years old, you really don’t understand,” Alonso said. “You want to get there, but it’s kind of out of touch. It’s not even in the realm of reality at that point. But … sure enough, I’ve hit in plenty of Derbies, and now that we’re doing it, I’m going to keep good on a promise.”

Friedlein on Monday will become the latest figure from Alonso’s baseball life to throw to him at the Derby, joining his cousin, Derek Morgan (2019), and one of his former big league coaches, Dave Jauss (2021-22). That Alonso has even had so many opportunities has been the product of his wild success in the Majors, which now includes three appearances in the Midsummer Classic.

In recent years, Alonso has expressed a desire to participate in the Derby only if he makes the All-Star team. That hasn’t been much of a problem for a player who leads MLB by a wide margin with 172 homers since he broke into the Majors in 2019.

“It is good timing for him to be reminded how good of a player he is,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “Pete is as real as it gets.”

Although Alonso sports a career-low batting average heading into the All-Star Game, he is on pace to eclipse 40 homers for the third time in four full seasons as a big leaguer. Once a raw prospect with plenty of power but concern over his defense and ability to hit high-level pitching, Alonso has since established himself as one of the game’s premier sluggers. If not for the presences of all-everything National League first basemen Matt Olson and Freddie Freeman, Alonso would have stood a strong chance to start the All-Star Game in Seattle on Tuesday.

As it is, he’ll have to settle for a reserve role and another chance to make Derby history. Alonso’s first-round matchup will come against Mariners slugger Julio Rodríguez, the only player to best him in a Derby so far. But Alonso feels he has a secret weapon. Friedlein (who through Alonso declined to be interviewed for this story), is more than just a batting practice pitcher for Alonso. He is a longtime friend and mentor, a coach from Alonso’s youth who bonded with him in a way that others could not.

“We’ve maintained a great relationship for a really long time,” Alonso said. “There’s people in this career that you meet along the way that are just forever part of your baseball family. The Jausses, we just think the world of them. So it was really special the past two years to have them. And it’s going to be super surreal to [be with Friedlein]. You’re just shooting the breeze between rounds of BP 14, 15 years ago, and then now it’s happening. It’s really cool and really special.”