‘I’m the best power hitter on the planet’

By Tyler Kepner

Pete Alonso was made for the Home Run Derby — his strength, his swagger, his spirit. If he keeps going like this, Alonso could be the new Bobby Bonilla: every July, he’ll get a check for $1 million.

Alonso, the New York Mets’ irrepressible first baseman, repeated as the Home Run Derby champion on Monday at Coors Field, winning the $1 million prize. He also won in Cleveland in 2019, before the pandemic canceled last year’s event.

Alonso was not named to the 2021 National League All-Star team, but had no doubts that he would dominate the undercard for Tuesday night’s game.

“I’m a power hitter, and I think I’m the best power hitter on the planet,” he said. “Being able to showcase that and really put on a fun display for fans, it’s truly a dream come true for me, because when I was younger my parents let me stay up past my bedtime to watch this.”

The Home Run Derby did not have a cash prize back then. That incentive started in 2019, and with each victory, Alonso nearly doubled his salary in one night of epic slugging. In baseball’s pay structure, which is based largely on service time, Alonso made the $555,000 minimum as a rookie in 2019, and his salary now is just $676,775.

Two years ago, he had 30 home runs at the break, on his way to 53, a rookie record. Alonso has 17 now and was seeded fifth in the Derby. He said his Mets teammates considered that disrespectful, and asked if it made him mad.

“I’m like, ‘No, I’m going to win anyways, it doesn’t matter,’” Alonso said. “This is such a fun time for me, it’s just all positive thoughts, fun thoughts. I’ve put myself in a really good position.”

Alonso asked for New York music to play while he hit, so he bopped his head and shimmied to Nas, Mobb Deep and the Notorious B.I.G. He used a bat with custom designs by Gregory Siff, an artist from Queens now based in Los Angeles.

He launched a record 35 home runs in the first round, and even as his opponent, Kansas City’s Salvador Pérez, bashed 28, Alonso said he never worried.

“No,” he said. “As soon as I saw 35 up there I’m like, ‘That’s untouchable.’ ”

It was. Alonso then breezed past Washington’s Juan Soto and then Baltimore’s Trey Mancini for the victory.

“He made it look real easy,” Mancini said. “It didn’t seem like he got too tired.”

Alonso said his strategy was to conserve his energy, drink plenty of fluids and stay stretched and loose with the help of a massage tool. He also had a pitcher with uncanny precision: Mets bench coach Dave Jauss.

“I don’t throw hard,” Jauss said, smiling. “But I can close my eyes and hit a spot.”

Jauss, 64, said he once pitched a 100-inning game — for both teams — during his days as a shortstop at Amherst College in Massachusetts. (“We started with a 1-2 count,” he said, “which helps.”) As a coach for the Boston Red Sox when they hosted the 1999 All-Star Game, Jauss threw batting practice for hours to the league’s top sluggers, including Nomar Garciaparra, Juan González, Ken Griffey Jr. and Iván Rodríguez.

His arm never gets sore, he said, and his aim is still true.

“He was putting it right in the breadbasket, right in the honey hole, right in the sweet spot of my swing,” Alonso said. “That’s what we worked on in practice. He’s my everyday BP thrower and to be able to come out on top like this is really special, not just for me, but for him.”

Alonso smashed 74 homers in all, and topped Mancini’s final-round 22 with 31 seconds to spare. He joined Griffey and Yoenis Cespedes as the only back-to-back winners, and could clearly challenge Griffey’s record of three overall titles.

For now, though, Alonso would make no commitments to future derbies. His legacy in the event is secure, he said, and with the Mets in first place in the NL East, Alonso’s focus has already shifted to another goal.

“As he says, the next time he and I are going to celebrate is going to be late October or early November on the field,” Jauss said. “That’s what he wants.”

8 views0 comments