NEW YORK — Pete Alonso knew the family background.
That his grandfather, Peter Conrad Alonso, moved as a teenager from Spain and settled in the Queens borough of New York. And that his father, Peter Matthew Alonso, was born there before moving as a kid to Ohio and then eventually to Tampa.
What he had no way of knowing, not even when he was drafted by the Mets, who just so happen to play in Queens, was how much that history would frame his future.
“I just think that life comes full circle,’’ Alonso said. “The universe has a funny way of working itself out. It’s absolutely insane that I’m back here. It’s kind of weird. It almost feels like I was meant to be here.’’
He has certainly acted that way, bashing his way into the headlines and the hearts of Mets fans with a powerful introduction, most notably by slugging 19 home runs in two months of his first season in the majors.
That he matched Mark McGwire’s record for most by a rookie by June 1, that he ranks third in the majors (through Saturday), that he is already closing in Darryl Strawberry’s Mets rookie record of 26 is certainly interesting.
And that he has continued in the majors to push the new-era data measurements as he did in the minors, highlighted by an April blast clocked off his bat at 118.3 mph (and estimated at 454 feet) that is the hardest-hit homer thus far in 2019, is definitely intriguing.
But, really, what’s most impressive of all is that Alonso, 24, is here, in the majors at all.
He wasn’t among the 1,216 players drafted when he finished at Tampa’s Plant High in 2013. The Florida Gators coaching staff had to be talked into taking him. Only five to seven teams (and not the Rays, he said) showed serious interest in a right-handed power hitter as the Mets drafted him 64th overall in 2016. Scouts and some staff in the Mets organization questioned if he’d make it to the big leagues.
And now he is playing, and playing a starring role, and on the grand New York stage.
“So far everything has been more than what I expected,’’ Alonso said recently, sitting in the Mets’ Citi Field clubhouse. “I’m living a dream. Or not even living a dream, I’m living a fantasy. It’s wonderful. I can’t describe how amazing this experience has been thus far.’’
That extends beyond the nightly power show, the rest of the lengthy list of things Alonso has accomplished at the plate, and the better than expected job he has done, after extensive work, playing first base.
“The most impressive thing for me is the leadership,’’ Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “He is not timid to lead, which is very, very rare for a guy that is his age with maybe a Hall of Famer (Robinson Cano) in the room and (veteran) guys like Todd Frazier.
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“He is outspoken. He leads. He expects things from his teammates and he vocalizes it. So it’s not just leading by running balls out hard, which he does every time. It’s actually being a vocal leader. He’s going to be an unbelievable player and leader for us moving forward.’’
That innate ability is also obvious in the savviness Alonso has shown in handling the New York spotlight, even impressing some of the most grizzled reporters.
His willingness to step forward in front of the cameras and note pads, even with the team struggling and the tabloids screaming recently for Callaway’s job, has been notable.
“He’s going to stand up in front of his locker, he’s going to be accountable, he’s going to tell the truth, he’s never going to make an excuse,’’ Callaway said. “That’s what it takes here. He’s made for this city.’’
Alonso’s father (who actually is Peter the fourth, as they all have different middle names) said he and wife Michelle figured their son would handle the bright lights well. Just like his dedication and work ethic, he has a good sense of awareness.
“Peter has always done well on a big stage,’’ dad said. “He’s very genuine, speaks from the heart and plays with the level of passion that he does, and he transfers that to the people around him.’’
Scroll back through being a prospect in a Mets system that draws media coverage, starring at Florida, playing at high-profile Plant High under Dennis Braun, having the pedigree of coming from the Tampa Bay area — all factored in shaping him.
“The tradition and the heritage of baseball in the Tampa Bay area and the knowledge people have and shared with him worked to his favor,’’ his dad said. “There’s guys walking around on the fields like Wade Boggs, (Fred) McGriff, Tino Martinez, you can go on and on. It’s been really neat to see that he can leverage that type of tradition and heritage, and that type of wisdom, to his game.’’
There is also some naivete, as he tries to enjoy his wonderful life living on the upper east side of Manhattan.
“I’ve only been recognized a couple times,’’ he said. “Me and my fiancée where going to lunch and there was this guy walking by. He’s like, “Hey, are you Pete Alonso?’ I say yea. He’s like, ‘I love what you’re doing, but you gotta stop swinging at balls in the dirt!’ I’m like, “Okay … “
“He looked like a doctor. I’m thinking, ‘Next time do a better job on those stitches; the incision wasn’t straight.’ I should have said that.’’
Obviously, Alonso’s level of popularity and recognition level is going to go up. (Plus, at 6-3, 245 he is fairly recognizable.) There are going to be times when he’s not going so well, when the men on the street, the fans, the headline writers and the talk-show screamers are going to turn against him.
Alonso said he knows that, too, and can handle it.
But, to this point, he sees it a great fit.
“The city has been embracing me and I’m embracing it as well,’’ he said. “I’m happy with how I’ve handled everything.
“I’m really thankful how the fans have been receiving me. I can’t be thankful enough for that. It’s been awesome. One thing about Mets fans, they are extremely, extremely passionate. They live and die with the team. I love that. Having a fan base this passionate is awesome to play for.’’
Alonso also plays for his family. His parents have made a couple trips to see him, and watch literally every other game. His younger brother has made it to a few.
Peter Conrad Alonso, his grandfather, didn’t have the chance to see him in the majors, dying in December at age 95. After the funeral, Alonso’s dad gave him a white monogrammed handkerchief his father had used.
When Alonso walked out of the clubhouse for the Mets’ first flight of the season, he had it tucked in the breast pocket of his blazer in homage.
Almost like he was meant to be there.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.