August 7, 2020

Monday Mets: For Pete’s Sake

As you may have noticed, I haven’t written much about Pete Alonso this year. I’m not sure if it’s because I didn’t want to jinx him, or because I couldn’t get a good handle on what he was pulling off, or maybe it was because I didn’t see much value in a story whose point would have been “I know the team has been disappointing but check out this great player.” It was probably a mix of all of those, and now that the season is complete, I’m breaking my relative silence.

In that spirit…I know the 2019 Mets were something of a disappointment, but check out how great Pete Alonso was. Let’s get something out of the way first: we all know that this was a season of inflated home runs. My 4-year-old daughter had a dozen and she could only play in day games. I don’t know if it was a different composition to the baseball, a ridiculous amount of pitchers who weren’t quite ready for the majors, small ballparks, technological advances in equipment, new approaches to hitting…again, probably a combination of at least some of these. All that said, in a season of inflated home runs, nobody inflated them as much as the Mets rookie first baseman. That Alonso won the Home Run Derby is fun. That he set a record for most home runs by a rookie is neat. To me it’s not much more than that. The record he broke was 2-years-old, and I wouldn’t be incredibly surprised if Alonso’s hold on the mark lasts just as long.

But for the first time in baseball history, a New York Mets batter led the majors in home runs. That’s no small thing. When you add to that fact that the player was a rookie, it’s easy to get excited.

There was something else about Alonso, beyond the memorable blasts that he hit, repeatedly, this season, that made him special…

As you probably know, the Mets headed into the All-Star break in a near low-point, with a record of 40-50. Following a loss in their first game after the break, they were 11 games under .500 and were literally one of the worst teams in the National League. Then business started to pick up, so to speak. And by the morning of July 31st, following an 11-inning win against the White Sox in Chicago, Mets fans were treated to this Tweet from their budding star rookie. For those not into clicking on such links, it was a combined thank you and rallying cry for Mets fans, ending with the now famous #LFGM.

Here’s what this accomplished:

  1. It re-energized that bond between the team and the fans in the appropriate 21st-Century manner
  2. It let Mets fans know that the goal wasn’t to just be better than they had been, not even to just finish over .500, but it was a pledge from the team to the fans that the goal was still to make the postseason
  3. It showed that this young, prodigious slugger was intent on being a team leader in a wonderfully inclusive way

The timing of this was noteworthy as well. The Mets went on to win 10 of the next 11 games that followed this Tweet, as if the players and the fans simultaneously drank the blue and orange Kool-Aid. Side note: I don’t recommend actually drinking blue and orange Kool-Aid, it’s likely full of empty calories, probably doesn’t taste good, and let’s be real, the mascot is an oversized pitcher that crashes through walls. Hardly comforting for parents. The last time I saw an oversized pitcher crash through walls was former Astros reliever Charlie Kerfeld. I’ll be here all week.

By the time the season was done, Pete Alonso was almost as well-known for his non-HR exploits as he was for his moonshots. Between the post-walk-off win celebrations, the 9/11-themed cleats he handed out to teammates (narrowly skirting the ire from MLB), and the day-to-day excitement he brought to the team, there was nothing about him that said “rookie” aside from his record.

In the end, as we know, the rally fell short. The Mets postseason dreams, which had been revived in August, were gone with a few games remaining in the season. But for a team that was hopeless by the end of June, there is now reason to hope for the future, and it wasn’t just the 53(!) Alonso home runs that did this.

I think I’ll go back to not writing about Pete Alonso for a while. Apparently, on the field or away from the diamond, he’s doing just fine speaking for himself.