GAINESVILLE — Peter Alonso is usually clean-shaven, but until Florida's baseball team is eliminated from title contention, his "lucky" beard isn't going anywhere.
Not after a 95-mph fastball broke his hand in late May but didn't end his season. Not after he came back in just three weeks and hit a home run in his first at-bat. And definitely not after he hit .520 with three homers and 11 RBIs in six games since returning for the NCAA tournament.
"I honestly feel like every time he comes to the plate he's going to hit a home run," Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "It's remarkable."
Come Sunday night in Florida's first game of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., the Tampa native and former high school standout at Jesuit and Plant hopes his hot hitting continues when the Gators face Coastal Carolina.
While the dominant pitching staff for top-seeded Florida (52-14) gets much of the attention, the offense has been led by Alonso, who is first on the team in batting average (.373) and home runs (13) and second in RBIs (58). Small wonder the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association named him as a first-team All-American in voting released on Thursday.
"You take Pete out and it's a completely different team," said Berkeley Prep coach Richie Warren, who coached Alonso as an underclassmen at Jesuit. "I don't know if they make it to Omaha without Pete Alonso."
Warren and O'Sullivan agree that the key to Alonso's success is his incessant drive to get better. Warren said the perfect word to describe the first baseman is relentless.
"He just doesn't stop," Warren said.
Added O'Sullivan: "You come out here and he's in a full body sweat."
But there's something else about Alonso that his coaches believe makes him successful: The junior is the teammate everyone wants to be around.
"He's a great player," UF shortstop Dalton Guthrie said, "but whenever I think of Pete off the field, I just think of goofy."
Alonso prides himself on not taking the game — or much of anything — too seriously. He tells jokes, like when he recently walked into a postgame news conference for the third straight game after a UF win and gave himself a literal pat on the back, saying, "Hey, three (appearances) in a row."
His 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame rides a longboard around campus. And he believes, perhaps more than anything else, that playing baseball should be fun.
"He's just the perfect combination," Warren said of Alonso's ability to outwork anyone while being friends with everyone.
That attitude and work ethic have allowed Alonso, the No. 64 overall pick by the Mets in this month's MLB amateur draft, to thrive at the plate, even after serious injuries.
Last season he was sidelined for UF's first 30 games with a broken foot. He returned but then broke his nose after getting hit by ball that ricocheted off the cage in batting practice. He wore a face mask the rest of the season.
But this season's broken hand after being hit by a pitch against Vanderbilt was particularly upsetting because, Alonso said, he thought his year — and UF career — was over.
"What I tried to tell the guys is you can't take anything for granted," Alonso said. "You don't know when it's going to go away, so you've got to play every day like it's your last."
His season wasn't over, but it will be — for better or worse — in Omaha.
So armed with his lucky playoff beard, the junior will try to take his own advice.
And because of the way he has been hitting, teammate and SEC pitcher of the year Logan Shore has advice for opposing pitchers:
"Right now, I'd probably walk him. That would probably be the best option."