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Mets slugger Pete Alonso returns to where it all began in Tampa

A day after getting a record-setting contract from the Mets, the Tampa native hosts his first charity home run derby at his alma mater, Plant High.
Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, center, answers questions from groups of girls and boys Saturday afternoon at his alma mater, Plant High School. Alonso, who graduated from Plant in 2013, was hosting the first annual Battle for the Bay youth homerun derby to benefit his Alonso Foundation.
Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, center, answers questions from groups of girls and boys Saturday afternoon at his alma mater, Plant High School. Alonso, who graduated from Plant in 2013, was hosting the first annual Battle for the Bay youth homerun derby to benefit his Alonso Foundation. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Jan. 15|Updated Jan. 15

TAMPA — For Pete Alonso, it will always come back to Tampa.

On Friday night, the former Plant High and Florida star set a major-league record. His one-year, $14.5 million contract with the Mets, agreed to before the arbitration deadline, was the highest awarded to a first baseman during arbitration negotiations.

Standing on the field at Plant on Saturday, before hosting his “Battle for the Bay,” Alonso, 28, said the contract was something he could only dream about when he was hitting homers for the Panthers.

“(Friday), it was really special. As a young kid, thinking back on it, I never thought that that would be a possibility. I mean, it was a dream, " the two-time home run derby champion said. “As a young kid, you … just want to get (to the majors), and then once things start to become more of a reality, then it’s like ‘OK, this is this is real. This is real.’

“So, it’s a really special moment, and I had to go out and perform, but also at the same time, I feel blessed.”

Alonso, a two-time All-Star, broke the majors’ rookie home run record in 2019 with 53. He has hit a total of 146 home runs in his four major-league seasons and has a career .884 OPS. Last season he hit 40 homers, had a major-league-leading 131 RBIs (tied with the Yankees’ Aaron Judge) and helped the Mets get into the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

For Alonso, making this career a reality began in Tampa, and he has never forgotten that.

Pete Alonso, holding a cell phone for a selfie, is generous with his knowledge and time during Saturday's three-plus-hour event at Plant.
Pete Alonso, holding a cell phone for a selfie, is generous with his knowledge and time during Saturday's three-plus-hour event at Plant. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

On Saturday, he hosted a home run derby with top local baseball and softball players to raise money for his foundation. The Pete Alonso Foundation will make grants through the city of Tampa each year. The West Tampa Little League, where Alonso played as a kid, will be the first to benefit. Alonso said he wants to make sure fields are safe for young players to ensure their early experiences with the game are positive. There will also be new permanent stands for Plant.

“Tampa is just a super-baseball-rich city,” he said. “Baseball is within the fabric of Tampa’s history. And the game means a lot here, and to be able to give back with a baseball activity, it just fits.

“I’m just really excited because these kids are going to be super excited to participate and perform. Tampa, it’s one of those hotbeds in the country where you get the best baseball talent from any age.”

Alonso drew on that hotbed Saturday, having Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker, a Plant alum as well; Red Sox infielder and Hernando High alum Christian Arroyo; and Gio Urshela, the Angels third baseman who still spends offseasons here after his time with the Yankees end the night with a home run derby. With former Rays player and current MLB Network analyst Carlos Pena and former Cleveland infielder Travis Hafner also hitting, Alonso thrilled hundreds of kids, parents and baseball fans in attendance by winning the derby, sending two balls into the parking lot.

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Pete Alonso, coming off a season in which he hit 131 RBIs to tie for the league lead, has had quite the Major League Baseball career so far.
Pete Alonso, coming off a season in which he hit 131 RBIs to tie for the league lead, has had quite the Major League Baseball career so far. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Alonso plays for perhaps the most interesting owner and the team that’s having the most interesting offseason in baseball. The Mets’ billionaire owner, Steve Cohen, blew past the salary cap, signing pitcher Justin Verlander and coming to an agreement with free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa before that deal famously fell through.

“I didn’t really have any input,” Alonso said. “I mean, I just kind of sat back and just kicked my feet up and watched (Cohen). I thought we have some great players that are on the roster, and I think that making some new additions was awesome.

“I think that we have a great core of kids. We have great talent. And I feel like we made some really positive additions. So it’s going to be really exciting.”

Alonso declined to comment on whether a possible long-term extension is in his near future. He is eligible to become a free agent in 2025. Until then, he feels like he is in the right spot to make more history.

“I feel like we’re on the brink of something extremely special,” he said. “And I know that we don’t just want to win one (championship). We want to win multiple championships. And in order to do that, we’ve got to perform. We definitely have the talent to be able to do that.”

Contact Kristie Ackert at kackert@tampabay.com.