After winning the Home Run Derby, stroking more homers than any other rookie in major league history and still missing the playoffs, Pete Alonso, the Met known to fans as Polar Bear, retreated from the city into hibernation in October.
One of his first stops was Yellowstone National Park. He pitched a tent and camped with his fiancée, Haley Walsh, before going home to Florida, where he went fishing. Last week, he packed his rifle and flew to Colorado, where he went on a dream hunt. His mother, Michelle Alonso, recognized his need to recharge.
“He went off the grid, back to nature,” she said. “Mentally, he’s back.”
Alonso re-emerged Monday night, when Major League Baseball announced that he had won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Alonso, 24, became the sixth Met to be named the top rookie in his class, joining his teammate Jacob deGrom, who won in 2014, Tom Seaver (1967), Jon Matlack (1972), Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984).
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced that Alonso had received 29 of 30 first place votes for the award, with Mike Soroka of the Atlanta Braves receiving the lone holdout. Soroka finished in second place, while Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres finished third.
“This year has really been just such a whirlwind and mind-boggling,” Alonso said on a conference call from his parents’ home in Tampa. “The names of the great players that are associated with that caliber of season and that title of rookie of the year, that’s some serious, serious elite company.”
Yordan Alvarez of the Houston Astros won the American League award for rookie of the year in a unanimous vote. An outfielder and designated hitter, Alvarez hit 27 homers and had an on-base percentage of .412 in 369 plate appearances.
DeGrom, who won the N.L. Cy Young Award last year, is again a finalist for that award, which will be announced on Wednesday.
Alonso’s performance came in an erratic season for the Mets, who missed the playoffs for the third straight year despite outstanding individual performances. His 53 home runs surpassed Aaron Judge’s rookie record of 52 for the Yankees in 2017, and he became the first rookie to lead the majors outright in homers. As a rookie in 1987, Mark McGwire hit 49 and shared the lead with the Cubs’ Andre Dawson.
In addition, Alonso led all rookies in games played (161), runs batted (120), on base percentage plus slugging (.941), slugging (.583), extra-base hits (85), runs scored (103), walks (72) and total bases (348). Having majored in history at the University of Florida, Alonso expressed an appreciation for his place in the record book.
“I can’t think of a happier time in my life playing baseball,” he said after the Mets’ season finale. “That is the ultimate. That’s what dreams, for me, are made of.”
Alonso is at the core of a young lineup that the Mets’ new manager, Carlos Beltran, will inherit next season, but his breakout campaign was somewhat delayed.
Despite hitting 36 home runs as a Class AA and AAA minor leaguer in 2018, along with 119 runs batted in and a .975 O.P.S., Alonso did not receive a call-up to the majors that September, when the Mets were long out of the playoff race. Alonso’s agents made it known publicly that Alonso was frustrated by the decision.
But Brodie Van Wagenen, who was hired as the Mets’ general manager shortly after that season, made a point of meeting with Alonso at the Fall Stars Game, a showcase of top prospects, in Arizona. To Alonso, the conversation that came with his order of lamb adobo was an “olive branch” from the organization.
Van Wagenen vowed that the Mets would give him every chance to prove himself, and Alonso promised to force the team’s hand, in part by improving his defense at first base.
In his first spring training game, Alonso hit a home run on the first pitch he saw, and throughout the spring outperformed Dominic Smith, a first-round draft pick by the Mets in 2013 who was the main competition at first base. Before the final exhibition game in Florida, Alonso prepared for how he would react to officially starting his rookie year in the majors.
“I might cry if they give me a thumbs up,” Alonso said. “To get that, that’s surreal.”
Tears followed when he received the official nod, and Alonso left no doubt that he was the best Met for the job. He proved to be an adept fielder, and teammates took to his earnest approach in the clubhouse.
“Pete kept the same attitude that he came into spring training with through the entire season,” Van Wagenen said at the general managers’ meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. “He was a good teammate and a true professional. He was lightning in the bottle for all Mets fans.”
Still, Alonso maintained that he was not satisfied with personal accomplishments when the team had missed the postseason. He also expects opponents to approach him differently now that he is a known slugger. He said that he wanted to win a championship next year, as well as a Gold Glove at some point in his career.
“I don’t want to be a dinosaur,” Alonso said. “I want to keep evolving and keep maturing as a player.”
Alonso has already started working out again. He is also on the hunt for a wedding venue. No date has been set, but his mother said he had declared next October off limits.
“It can’t be,” he told her. “I’ll be playing baseball.”
James Wagner contributed reporting.