by Paul West
The Mets’ recent tradition of producing standout individual seasons during otherwise disappointing (thus far, in this case) seasons continues. In the lost season of 2012, there was the redemption song of erudite survivor RA Dickey’s Cy Young Award; in 2014, the phenomenal Jacob deGrom won Rookie of the Year; then in 2018, deGrom and had one of the most dominant Cy Young seasons ever. This year, the Mets have a more talented roster than in the aforementioned seasons, but they yet again face an uphill climb at the All Star Break. Meanwhile, rookie Jeff McNeil is emerging as one of the best so-called pure hitters in the game…and then there’s first baseman Peter Alonso, who’s taken the National League–and the All Star festivities–by storm.
Meet the man now affectionately known as the Polar Bear.
Almost exactly a year ago, Alonso was a well regarded prospect during the Futures Game, when he nearly hit a ball out of Nationals Park. Alonso’s jaw-dropping homer had a 46-degree launch angle and 113.6 mph exit velocity, the first time a home run had been recorded with that statistical combination. In the first half of this season, he’s reached the break leading National League rookies in runs (57), hits (91), doubles (21), home runs (30), RBIs (68), and walks (37). He’s broken or tied multiple franchise and league records, and the big man even has two triples.
And then on Monday, sharing the spotlight with the mesmerizing triple-overtime duel of Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Joc Pederson, Alonso won the MLB Home Run Derby with virtual buzzer-beaters in every round. Granted, his first round opponent had an uncharacteristically poor outing, and Guerrero was clearly gassed from the aforementioned marathon semifinal round; still, he earned bonus time via home run distance in each round and didn’t have to use it once, while navigating the at-times cringeworthy struggles of his cousin and chosen pitcher–who leapt into his arms in glee, and almost certainly relief, after the Alonso’s clinching shot. In the All Star Game itself, Alonso smoked a two out, two strike, two-run single in the eighth inning to close the AL’s lead to 4-3; this made him the first rookie with multiple RBIs in an All Star Game. He also showcased better-than-advertised defense, with a few impressive stretches (the worst of which Mets fans have lately grown accustomed to seeing) a slick play on a sharply hit grounder, and a magnificent backhanded swipe of an in-between hop on a throw from Max Muncy. Then there’s this: in a pre-derby interview with MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds, he was asked about his bat, which was decorated in flames and nicknamed Haley’s Comet. He said, mere feet from the camera and with deadpan calm:
So, my fiancee’s name is Haley, and we got Haley’s comet because I’m gonna be putting balls into orbit.
He then grinned into the camera with an implied wink. Alonso projects an easygoing confidence which falls just shy of arrogance and is reminiscent of the likes of Mookie Betts , Shohei Ohtani, or (yes, really) Mike Trout. None of which, of course, is to suggest that Alonso belongs in such elite company just yet; after all, half a season does not a superstar make. But Peter Alonso has all the makings of the real deal: astounding all-fields power, solid defense, a knack for big moments, and–as Mets fans have seen for months–leadership ability belying his scant major league experience.
Whatever becomes of this season, the New York Mets have a talented, youthful core on which to build–and a position player around whom to center their efforts. Mets fans have known it for a while, and now the entire baseball world knows it.