JUPITER, Fla. — There will be times when he will be squeezing the bat in his hands, times when the journal he keeps will not help him against pitchers who have studied him, times when Pete Alonso will learn that being the apple of the Big Apple’s eye and being asked daily to carry the hopes and dreams of the fan base on his shoulders will feel like more of a curse than a blessing.
A year ago in spring training, he began his sweet, innocent climb out of nowhere to stardom, the Mets’ version of Aaron Judge, a phenom they call the Polar Bear who talked about feeling dangerous with a bat in his hands, who walked the walk to the Home Run Derby crown and NL Rookie of the Year and a rookie-record 53 homers.
And now? Everyone wants to know:
What can Pete Alonso do for an encore?
Jacob deGrom won a second Cy Young for an encore, but he is one of the exceptions to the rule that often reminds us that you can be a Boy of Summer one year and a fall guy the next. Perhaps you remember a Yankee named Kevin Maas. Understandable if you don’t.
Now no one here can picture Alonso as a one-hit wonder, or a sophomore jinx victim. He has too much talent, too much power, too much drive and commitment to fathom such a thought.
He’ll hit his fair share of Ruthian blasts. But let’s not expect 50-something more of them.
For Pete’s sake, New York should lower the bar for him.
“No, don’t!” Alonso told The Post. “I expect myself to do great things, I hold myself to a high standard and … I don’t like low standards, I like high standards.”
The game can humble you in a heartbeat, especially if the baseballs aren’t as juiced as they were in 2019.
A leadoff single in his second at bat Thursday against Cardinals southpaw Kwang Hyun Kim gave him a 5-for-26 spring without a home run and just one RBI. It doesn’t worry the Mets, and it doesn’t worry Alonso, even if he banged his way north a year ago with a .352/.387/.620 slash line: four HR, 11 RBIs, five doubles and a triple, four BB, 12 K across 22 games.
“I want to be able to do what the game gives me,” Alonso said. “There’s more than one way to win a baseball game, that’s the whole being dynamic. Hitting homers, they’re fun, they’re awesome, they’re sick, but if I hit 40, 50, 60, 80, for me it doesn’t matter, I just want to win.”
Is 53 a realistic number again for Pete Alonso?
“Why not? he said. “Why not?”
Can you elaborate on why not?
“I mean, the potential’s there. If I could do it once, I could definitely do it again,” Alonso said. “But on the flip side of that coin, I gotta take what the game gives me. … It all just depends on their plan of attack. If it’s in the cards, then why not?”
None of his teammates will be banging on garbage cans telling him what pitch is coming. Of course, none of them did last season either.
“I want to be more of a complete player,” Alonso said. “I want to keep continuing to push myself, and without that constant motivation, without that constant pushing, you don’t know what heights you could reach. I consider myself blessed, and I want to push myself to do great things.”
No one could have seen his 2019 coming. No one except maybe Alonso.
“Well, when I’m a little kid in the backyard, in my dream of becoming a big-league ballplayer, that’s the dream, is being the guy that clutches up and does things like that,” Alonso said. “I’ve been dreaming about opportunities just like this every single day. I’m not just like dreamt of it, I’ve envisioned it. I wouldn’t say I set out and said I wanted to hit 53 homers, but I did envision wanting to be great. I put all my eggs in one basket, and to all the kids out there and your parents are saying you can’t put all your eggs in one basket, that’s not true.”
For many, those eggs end up scrambled.
“Yeah, that’s true,” Alonso said, “but then also you can find a new egg. The chicken will lay a new egg.”
Dominic Smith urges Alonso to keep his sunny side up.
“This year his name is gonna be circled across every lineup card,” Smith told The Post. “It’s gonna be tough, because teams aren’t gonna let him beat ’em. So if he could patient, have fun, and just don’t try to do too much which he doesn’t, he’ll be fine. … If he has fun, if he goes out and hits 40, that’s still a great year. So I just want him to not get caught up in trying to hit 50 again because it’s so tough to do. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes on and hits over 50 at the same time, that’s just the type of talent he has.”
They all trust Alonso is made of the right stuff not to buckle under the weight of great expectations.
“I think he’s got someone great to rely on with Jake, who’s done that before, who’s won the [2014 NL] Rookie of the Year and had to deal with expectations, he won the Cy Young and what’d he do? He came back and won another one,” Brandon Nimmo said. “Obviously a little but different, from pitching to hitting, but there’s obviously gonna be a similar mindset that Jake had to take into each start, and I think that’s something that he can pass on to Pete as well.”
Bring it on. Bring it all on.
“Having pressure is privilege,” Alonso said, “because for me to be in that opportunity to be given that chance to be something great, I feel like for me it’s where I find out my true colors, because I want to hold myself accountable, I want to hold myself to the utmost highest expectations, and I want to win a championship, I want to be a part of a championship team.”
One more home run answer from Pete Alonso.