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Pete Alonso’s Endless Enthusiasm Leads to Home Run Derby Win

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Pete Alonso’s Endless Enthusiasm Leads to Home Run Derby Win

CLEVELAND — Part of the charm of Pete Alonso, the precocious and powerful rookie for the Mets, is that he is both supremely confident and utterly awe-struck. He knows he belongs at the All-Star Game, yet he also cannot quite believe it.

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“For me, it’s like, I’m an All-Star and my idol, a guy I want to emulate, is Paul Goldschmidt — and he’s not here and I am,” Alonso said, referring to the St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman . “That’s the most humbling thing about this.”

Goldschmidt, a six-time All-Star, is not the only slugger missing at Progressive Field this week. So are Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and every other active former Home Run Derby winner. Alonso joined their club on Monday, knocking out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays to claim the event’s first $1 million prize.

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“We hit the sweet spot, we got in a groove and carried it on through,” Alonso said later, with his cousin and derby pitcher, Derek Morgan, by his side in an interview room. “It was really special. I’m so blessed.”

Alonso had competed in a home run derby before — against Jose Canseco, of all people, in a college summer league event in 2014. On Monday, he beat Cleveland’s Carlos Santana, Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. and then Guerrero, who smoked 91 homers overall (staging an epic second-round duel with the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson) but could not outlast Alonso in the final round.

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With the victory, Alonso earned more money in one night than he will make all season on the rookie salary of $555,000. He said he would donate 5 percent of Monday’s winnings to Tunnel to Towers, which supports fallen military members and emergency medical workers, and another 5 percent to the Wounded Warrior Project

Image Of the participants who got through to the second round, Alonso had the fewest home runs. But he was at his best in the finals. Credit Charles Leclaire/USA Today Sports, via Reuters “I’ve been living a fantasy,” Alonso said, “and I just want to use my platform.”

[ Back in June Alonso predicted his Home Run Derby winnings would help cover wedding costs. ]

Alonso, 24, earned the chance by slamming 30 home runs in the first half, matching the most any Met has ever hit before the All-Star break. He watched the derby every summer as a boy in Tampa, Fla., captivated by Sammy Sosa, Josh Hamilton and others

For role models, though, Alonso chose players who matched his characteristics on the field, slugging first basemen who hit and field right-handed. At first it was Paul Konerko, the longtime Chicago White Sox star. Alonso admired Konerko’s bat but also his leadership, the way he guided a perennially overshadowed team in a major market (sound familiar?) to a World Series championship in 2005

When Konerko retired, Alonso focused on Goldschmidt, who is roughly the same size and has managed to win three Gold Gloves despite a bat-first reputation

One difference, though, is that Konerko and Goldschmidt cultivated stoic, cerebral demeanors. Alonso exudes breathless enthusiasm, like a golden retriever who just wants to chase tennis balls around the yard all day long

“Peter’s happy-go-lucky, he’s a teddy bear — so Polar Bear fits him perfectly,” said the former Mets prospect Justin Dunn , who was traded to Seattle last December, referring to Alonso’s nickname. “I never call him Polar Bear, but I definitely call him my big little teddy bear. He’s just something special. He’s amazing.”

Alonso flew to Cleveland with the Mets’ other All-Stars, starter Jacob deGrom and outfielder Jeff McNeil. Perhaps surprisingly for a team 10 games under .500, the Mets have three no-doubt All-Stars; deGrom is again one of baseball’s best starters, and McNeil is the majors’ leading hitter, at .349. DeGrom, who earned his third All-Star selection this year, told his teammates to relax and have fun, and he said they had gotten the message — especially Alonso

“I think he has fun doing just about anything,” deGrom said, laughing

At his interview table on Monday afternoon, Alonso gamely responded to waves of unusual questions. He professed his love for Chinese food to a reporter from Asia. He told another reporter that he prefers the Billy Ray Cyrus version of “Old Town Road” to the original. He said that if he had to get a tattoo of a teammate, he would want a “mean-looking squirrel” as a tribute to McNeil, whose nickname is Flying Squirrel

Image Guerrero hit 91 homers over the three rounds of the derby, but Alonso outlasted him in the final. Credit Tony Dejak/Associated Press Alonso also spoke at length about his respect for Mets fans, the way they stick with the team without jumping to support the Yankees. When asked for the craziest interaction he has had with a fan, Alonso gave a heartfelt reply

“This little boy, he drew a picture of me — but I wasn’t me, I was a polar bear, and he had a ball and a bat,” Alonso said. “His name is Niko, and he’s like, ‘This is you, this is me. Here, it’s for you.’ I was like, ‘Do you want me to sign it?’ And he’s like, ‘No, this is for you to have.’ I thought that was really touching and cute. I grew up idolizing baseball players — and, I don’t know, it made my heart melt a little bit.”

Alonso put the drawing on his refrigerator at home. He and McNeil have captured the fans’ attention in this otherwise dismal Mets season, and teammates are just as enthralled

“Whenever they come up, I think we’re thinking the same way: ‘I wonder how far he’s going to hit this ball?’” deGrom said. “Or with McNeil: ‘Here comes another hit.’ It’s exciting for us.”

The Mets offered plenty of advice as Alonso prepared for the derby. Teammates Robinson Cano and Todd Frazier are past winners, as is the injured Yoenis Cespedes, who won it with the Oakland Athletics when the Mets’ hitting coach, Chili Davis, worked there. Alonso drew a colorful analogy to explain his strategy

“Basically it doesn’t matter how much jelly you have in the jar, it’s about how well you spread it on your English muffin,” Alonso said. “So it’s like, it doesn’t matter if you’re running low on energy, you need to conserve it and be as efficient as possible.”

Energy never seems to be a problem with Alonso, who said he barely even needs coffee to wake himself up in the morning. Every day is a new source of wonder, another chance to prove what he already knows: that he is extraordinarily talented at baseball

“I always have this inner belief that I can do things,” Alonso said. “I feel like I’m very positive, very optimistic. Regardless of the circumstances, I’ve always felt like I can overcome anything. If I come in with that attitude and keep the fear out, anything’s possible.”