CLEVELAND — Winning the All-Star Home Run Derby was a family affair for Pete Alonso.
And while the Mets rookie sensation was born, schooled and rooted in Tampa, this had more to do with his parents’ Ohio-based relatives, more than two dozen of whom turned out Monday to root him on.
And especially the one, Derek Morgan, a second cousin on his mom’s side, who got the opportunity to be the pitcher who helped him to the thrilling win.
"It was a decision made from all heart,'' mom Michelle Alonso said outside the NL team clubhouse late Monday. “His heart was in it. He said, ‘I want family involved. I want my cousin.’ Derek had only thrown to him three times. Three times. And (Pete) was like, 'You know what Derek, don’t worry about it. Just get it over the dish, I’ll take care of the rest. ‘ ‘’
Picking the cousin you played ball with on family vacation trips and holiday get-togethers to be your pitcher on an international and highly competitive stage when you have professional, school or hometown coach options seemed risky. This wasn’t wiffle ball at a summer picnic.
“He’s really confident, like, 'You know what, I’m just going to have fun. Do the best I can. I’m going to compete,’ ‘’ Michelle said. “That’s what I love about him. He plays with passion. He plays with all heart. So why not make a heartfelt decision?
“As a parent when you’re watching him, you let him because he’s leading with his heart. And all the decisions have been right so far. When it pans out, it’s exciting. But I’m telling you, I was shaking.’’
Alonso, 24, said Morgan passed the test from some of his Mets mates during one of their few practice sessions.
"Actually we kind of grew up around baseball,'' Alonso said. "The first time he threw to me was when I think we were in Atlanta, so it was like a month ago. ... He was throwing really good. And then eventually the more we kind of went on, he came for the Subway Series (in New York) and we put on a show for early work.
"And he really got the stamp of approval because you've got veterans like Robby Cano, Todd Frazier and Wilson Ramos making sure he's throwing money BP, and he was putting it right there for me. He impressed a lot of the guys, and especially all the coaching staff, too. They're really impressed and everyone thought, Look, y'all are going to win this thing. And they're right.''
Morgan, whose dad is cousins with Alonso’s mom, played ball through college at St. Bonaventure and Indiana Tech and said he was beyond thrilled at the opportunity.
"Honestly, just to be here, that’s all that matters to me,'' Morgan said late Monday. "Everybody is talking about him dreaming, and I’m still dreaming. I’m catching myself sitting here just flashing back to just the memories I had 20 minutes ago. It’s just surreal. And all that matters is that he asked me. I’m just blessed and honored that he asked me.''
Alonso hit 57 homers to win the title, beating Cleveland's Carlos Santana, the hometown favorite, 14-13; then Atlanta's Ronald Acuna Jr. 20-19 in the semifinals and Vlad Guerrero Jr. 23-22 in the thrilling final.
Alonso, a Tampa Plant and Florida Gators product, had plenty to talk about, asked in the post-Derby media session about:
* The large silver spinning medallion he was wearing around his neck? A gift from rapper Daddy Yankee for winning.
* His connection with the Wounded Warriors and Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which are both getting 5 percent of his $1 million prize? Both grandparents were in the military, and Alonso has tremendous respect for EMTs and other first responders.
* His previous home run derby experience? In the collegiate Northwoods League, when Jose Canseco was a guest participant and was advanced automatically to the final ahead of Alonso, who’d actually hit more homers.
* The origin of his nickname Polar Bear? That came originally from the wise-cracking Frazier, who said one day in spring training Alonso looked like one.
As stressed and emotionally spent as Alonso was, Michelle was a close second saying she was cheering and getting up and down so much with the 30-plus family and friends they had there overall that she was starting to get light-headed.
“That,’’ she said, “was so exciting.’’
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.