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Mets’ Pete Alonso finds his way back home to win NL Rookie honors

The easiest part of the day for the travel-weary first baseman may have been receiving the prestigious award.
Flanked by his mother, Michelle Alonso, left, father Peter Alonso (blue shirt, standing), girlfriend Haley Walsh, right, and friends, New York Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, 24, reacts as he finds out he has won the National League Rookie of the Year award on Monday at his home in Tampa. Alonso, a Plant High graduate, made a grand entrance to the big leagues, hitting a major-league rookie and team-record 53 home runs for the Mets. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]

TAMPA — Winning the National League Rookie of the Year award was always going to be the best part of Tampa native Pete Alonso’s Monday.

But who knew it was going to be, by far, the least eventful.

That’s because before Alonso got to his parents’ waterfront Tampa home, thanked the couple dozen relatives, friend and former coaches who gathered there to celebrate, and took a call from his Mets bosses doing a trio of live TV interviews, he had quite the experience.

No wonder, when asked for his reaction, Alonso said, considerately for editors everywhere, "Holy expletive!’’

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Alonso started the day with a 2:15 a.m. wakeup in Pagosa Springs, Colo., where he’d been hunting with Steven Rinella, host of the Netflix show MeatEater. Alonso then made a 90-minute drive to the Durango airport. Got stopped and “touched up” by TSA security. And after boarding, had his regional jet flight to Dallas was delayed 45 minutes for a mechanical issue.

And those were the lesser hassles that jeopardized his plan to be back in Tampa by mid-afternoon.

Next came a scary, aborted landing in Dallas, that we’ll let Alonso describe: "The pilot was doing a wheelie down the runway, then he almost went off the runway, and he had to hit the accelerator to go back up in the air. … It was nuts. I was freaked out that he took back off.’’

For reasons Alonso said weren’t clear, the plane flew about 30 minutes to Fort Hood and made a rough landing there. Informed it would be about five hours until they’d get back to Dallas, Alonso knew he had to make other plans.

He called agents Tripper Johnson and Jon Einalhori, who quickly called around and found a private jet with Wheels Up that could get Alonso to Tampa in time, but there was one problem — he had to get to Austin, which was another hour and a half drive away.

After convincing TSA people in Fort Hood to let him leave that airport, “I got in a cab and said, ‘Get me to Austin.’ He’s like, ‘Do you want to know how much it is?’ I said, ‘No, just get me to Austin.’ ’’

He landed (on a camo painted plane, which seemed fitting both for Veterans Day and Alonso’s efforts to help the military) in Tampa at 6:09 p.m. Fiancee Haley Walsh was waiting and drove him to his parents’ house, where he burst in the door with barely 10 minutes to spare, hit the bathroom, grabbed a plate of pasta and plopped down for his first live MLB Network interview at 6:30.

Holy expletive, indeed.

"I had,’’ Alonso deadpanned, "quite the day.’’

The announcement of the award was somewhat anti-climactic.

The Tampa Plant High and University of Florida product was such an obvious favorite after a sensational season headlined by an MLB rookie record 53 home runs that the only question seemed to be whether he would be a unanimous selection, though he missed by one vote, which went to Atlanta pitcher Mike Soroka.

No worries, as Alonso, whose tremendous on-field exploits are accompanied by a refreshingly positive perspective and outgoing personality, wasn’t the least bit concerned.

"To just have that title is just unbelievable,’’ he said. "It’s a blessing.’’

Alonso, 24, certainly earned it, even more impressive for a guy who wasn’t among the 1,216 players drafted in 2013 when he finished at Plant, and only got to Florida when the coaching staff was talked into taking him.

Tampa's Pete Alonso, center, gets a hug from Plant High School baseball coach Dennis Braun, left, before finding out he had won the National League Rookie of the Year award on Monday, November 11, 2019, at his home in Tampa. Alonso, a Plant High graduate, made a grand entrance to the big leagues, hitting a major-league rookie and team-record 53 home runs for the Mets. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]

But he worked himself into a prospect, and was a second-round pick, 64th overall, by the Mets in 2016.

There were more questions, about whether he’d make it to the big leagues, if he could play defense well enough at first base to stay, or run fast enough. He needed a solid spring to force the Mets to push aside any service time concerns and put him on the opening day roster.

And then he put on a show.

The 53 home runs, which also were a Mets single season record, headline his resume, which also included an All-Star selection and a thrilling home run derby win. Overall, Alonso, a first baseman, hit .260 with 53 homers, 120 RBIs and a .941 OPS while compiling a 5.0 WAR.

To share the award Monday night with his parents, Michelle and Peter, and dear friends made it even more special.

Also, coaches from all stages of Alonso’s career, some going back to his grade school days, such as Deveren Addison, Mike Fowler and Mike Friedlein. Also, Plant High’s Dennis Braun and Donnie Scott, who coached Alonso in the Northwoods collegiate summer league. (The Gators coaches couldn’t make it.)

"It’s awesome,’’ Alonso said. "Everyone here played such a really important part in my development, whether it be baseball or personal stuff. I’m just really lucky to have all these people here. I feel really blessed to have them all around me.’’

Alonso is the fifth Tampa Bay area product to win a Rookie of the Year award, joining Lou Piniella (Tampa Jesuit), 1969; Dwight Gooden (Hillsborough High), 1984; Chris Coghlan (East Lake High), 2009; and Jose Fernandez (Alonso High), 2013.

"That’s crazy,’’ Alonso said. "I feel like baseball is just kind of embedded in the culture in Tampa. It’s part of the main vein in the city.

"So many people grow up playing baseball around here. It’s just what we do. It’s such a hotbed of talent. It’s awesome to be a part of that.’’

With so much going on Monday, including a planned trip back to Tampa airport around 1 a.m. when his luggage was due in, Alonso acknowledged it may take a day or two for the award to sink in.

“That,” he said, “was the easy part of the day.’’

Rays Lowe third in AL voting

Rays infielder Brandon Lowe finished third in the voting for the AL Rookie of the Year award, won unanimously by Houston’s Yordan Alvarez. Lowe was named on 15 of the 30 ballots from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, getting six votes for second place and nine for third, finishing with 27 points. Baltimore pitcher John Means was second with 53 points, Alvarez had 150.

Lowe would have a chance for a much better showing had he not missed 10 weeks after fouling a ball off his right leg on July 2. In 83 games, he hit .270 with 17 homers, 51 RBIs and an .850 OPS. In 87 games after a June callup, Alvarez hit .313 with 27 homers, 78 RBIs and a 1.067 OPS.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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