TAMPA — Pete Alonso has received many accolades since completing his first season with the New York Mets, most notably being named the National League Rookie of Year in November. On Thursday morning he added another when he was inducted into the Academy of the Holy Names Athletic Hall of Fame.
Yes, Holy Names is an all-female high school. But Alonso attended the co-ed middle school from 2006-09 before attending Jesuit as a freshman and sophomore, and Plant as a junior and senior. The middle school did not have baseball, but he excelled at lacrosse and also played rugby and basketball.
In a ceremony in front of more than 250 current middle school students in the school’s Brady Center, Alonso received a medal and took questions from students during the hour-long ceremony.
“It was nice being able to talk to the kids," Alonso said. “Hopefully I had some words of inspiration for them and it hits home for some of them."
He did indeed have plenty of anecdotes about how his teachers at Holy Names inspired him. He stressed the importance of education and following dreams. And he also had a few gems like these:
On being told you can’t do something: “Whatever anyone says, screw ’em. Prove them wrong."
On being different: “I was kind of a weird guy, too. But being weird is cool, guys. Don’t change for anything."
On his favorite pitchers to hit against: “Anyone on the Atlanta Braves."
On his least favorite road trip: “Not a big fan of Philly."
And he also talked about his new-found fame. Alonso became a fan favorite in New York City after making the team out of spring training. That meant he started to get recognized while walking around town. Especially by doctors who worked in a hospital across the street from his apartment.
“They would say, ‘Hey, Pete Alonso,'" Alonso recalled in a spot-on New York accent. “Big fan, but would you please stop swingin’ at the slidas in the dirt. Why do you swing at those slidas?’ I’m thinking, ‘I don’t tell you how to do surgery, but thanks.’"
It’s hard to argue with the season Alonso had. He hit an MLB rookie-record 53 home runs. He won the home run derby during the all-star break. He hit .260 with 120 RBIs.
This time last year he was just another minor leaguer hoping to impress and earn a roster spot. Things have changed dramatically.
“The difference this year is my mentality," Alonso said. “I know what I’m capable of this year. Last year, honestly, I was just flying blind. I had no idea what to expect. I just knew I had to handle myself the right way, work hard and play well. Now, I know exactly what it’s like. Now I know the demands of what 162 games is like."
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The fact that Alonso has succeeded thus far is not surprising to those who knew him in middle school. Andrew Sassone was one of his best friends at Holy Names and also attended Jesuit and Plant. He and some friends split the cost of the MLB cable package this past season so they could watch Alonso’s at-bats.
“He was always working harder," said Sassone, who now works in Tampa as a real estate researcher. “He always took two batting practices instead of one. He was hitting the ball harder and was just stronger than everyone else. It all made sense."
History teacher Jim Trueman, whom Alonso mentioned as a big influence, could tell he was going to succeed at whatever he did.
“I wouldn’t say he was my greatest student, but he was the kind of kid who put the work in," Trueman said. “It mattered to him. Those grades were important to him because it was a reflection of him. Whatever he does, he wants to do his best."
As the middle schoolers filed out of the auditorium, Alonso stood at the doorway to give them all high-fives. Then it was on to the gym to continue his offseason workouts. He will not report to spring training in Port St. Lucie until after Feb. 14.
Alonso, 25, is not the only male to be inducted into the AHN Hall of Fame. Others include Tampa restaurateur Richard Gonzmart and Preston Tucker, a former major leaguer who now plays in South Korea.
Alonso told the assembled students that he hopes to play baseball for as long as he can. Right now, he’s just happy to be a big leaguer.
“It’s peace of mind," he said. “It’s justification of everything throughout my entire life. All the work I put in. All the little successes that turned into big successes. I’ve had a ton of people help me get there along the way. It’s been very special. I know I’m not just a big leaguer, I’m a good big leaguer. I want to continue to produce and be consistent."