Esposito: Is Alonso the New Face?

With the Mets playing tourists in the Bronx as they face the Yankees in their rain-induced day-night doubleheader, it was a good place to ask, “Has Pete Alonso become the new face of the Mets?”

With 22 home runs and 49 RBIs in his first 63 games – following that three-run blast in the first inning of the nitecap in the Subway Series revival Tuesday – the celebrated rookie has met and exceeded any expectations when Brodie Van Wagenen made the somewhat surprising move to keep him on the roster from Day One despite the typical career-hold that saves clubs sometimes millions of dollars in service time down the road.

Are we at the dawn of a tremendous career, something along the lines of Darryl Strawberry or David Wright – making comparisons to former home-grown Mets batters who have achieved All-Star status and eventually made contributions in World Series play – or are we just at the start of a good career, perhaps akin to other home-grown talents the likes of Todd Hundley, Lee Mazzilli, or Ron Hunt.

Or are we on the precipice of an all-time career, one that can eventually be compared to the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, who dominated the game for two decades and led his club to five World Championships.

Of course, no one can say at this juncture, but the “first inning” of Alonso’s career has certainly looked promising. Already the 24-year-old first baseman is on pace to overrun the team’s all-time record for home runs by a rookie – 26 by Strawberry in 1983 – and maybe even challenge the MLB record of home runs by a rookie – 49 by Mark McGwire in 1987.

Alonso also is on target to surpass the team RBI mark for rookies, again attached to Straw with 74 in ‘83. The Tampa, FL, native might own the whole rookie record page in the Mets media guide before the year is out, short of stolen bases and average.

And he’s already declared himself eligible for the Home Run Derby at next month’s All-Star Game in Cleveland. It’s rare when a Met wins the Home Run Derby but it has happened. Strawberry was a co-winner, along with Wally Joyner way back in 1986 at the Astrodome.

David Wright came close in 2006, losing by one home run to Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Interestingly, Alonso’s first base counterpart in the Bronx, Luke Voit, also has expressed wishes to participate in the longball tournament, and wouldn’t that be something. Two players who last year were riding the buses in the minors now associated by their burgeoning star status and playing the same position going head-to-head in the power parade at baseball’s Summer Fest.

Yankees have won the Derby several times – Tino Martinez in 1997, Jason Giambi in 2002, Robinson Cano in 2011, and Aaron Judge in 2017.

It was after Judge’s chamber-rific performance at Marlins Park two years ago that led Commissioner Rob Manford to anoint Judge as the new face of baseball. Players such as Mike Trout or Bryce Harper or Carlos Correa or numerous others might have an argument in their favor, but Manford was swept up in the excitement that Judge created with 47 impressive moonshots during his turns at-bat.

Certainly Judge has become the face of the Yankees in his short time in the Bronx. Despite his lengthy stint on the IL this year with a left oblique strain, Judge has electrified the Yankee fan base in the same ways Jeter did for so long.

Yankees such as Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, and this year’s headliners – DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela, and Voit also are vying for the adoration of their fans, but there’s something about Judge that has that “It” factor, that indefinable Q rating that rings true with the populace. Big time power leads to that, but then again, Jeter wasn’t a big home run hitter, and he had “It.”

Being home-grown also is a factor. Fans love those who come up from the minors and can monitor their entire career wearing their favorite laundry. That’s just one of the reasons Alex Rodriguez never could usurp Jeter’s status, despite being instrumental in their Championship run in 2009. And Giancarlo Stanton has a long ways to go to earn the devotion of current Yankee fandom. He hasn’t been able to come close to his MVP run of ‘17 in Miami, and being injured doesn’t help. Plus, he’s an import. He’ll likely never acquire that rank.

Alonso appears to have that “It” factor. Fan-friendly, always smiling, comfortable with the press without being cocky or all-knowing, and an innate ability to come up big in the clutch, winning games with late-inning heroics always rates highly.

Going into Tuesday’s games against the Yankees, Alonso was averaging .385 in the seventh inning, with five home runs and twelve runs batted in, .333 in the eighth inning, with three home runs and four RBIs, and .444 in the ninth inning, with 4 home runs and eight RBIs. Now that’s bringing home the bacon when the bacon is most needed, indeed.

One of his “secrets” to good hitting is his little black book. Far from the first ballplayer to maintain a book on pitchers or their at-bats, Alonso travels with a tattered black composition book, yes, just like the one you used in school, and after every game he logs his at-bats and efforts.

“I skim through it every day,” said Alonso as he was recording his performance from the nitecap in which the Mets won, 10-4.

“Most of it is basically ‘feel’ stuff, based on what I saw that day. What did well, what I need to improve on. I just try to make an unbiased view. If I’m going well, I can always refer back, and if I’m struggling I can fix the problem. It helps me stay on top of it.”

If he continues to hit, Alonso will stay on top, and what’s this baloney about him not being an adequate fielder. Alonso has worked tirelessly on his fielding, and from this perch, he has been exceptional around first base, saving runs, stretching for throws, and making the plays. Only four errors through those first 63 games (the Mets have played 67), after 430 chances, 385 putouts, 41 assists, and involved in 38 double plays, for a .991 fielding mark.

Time will tell if Alonso fully becomes the face of the Mets, and if so facto, put that in your little black book.

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