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Road to Rookie of the Year, Part I: Early Years

An in-depth look at Pete Alonso’s rise to being selected 2019 National League Rookie of the Year.

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Pete Alonso
Chris McShane

On December 7, 1994, Michelle and Peter Matthew Alonso welcomed a healthy baby boy into the world. Given the middle name “Morgan”, the baby boy would carry the same name as his father, and his father’s father. Peter Conrad Alonso, the patriarch of the family, was born in Barcelona and emigrated to the United States in the 1930s, fleeing from the chaos leading up to the Spanish Civil War. He settled in Queens, and as is the case with hundreds of thousands of other immigrants at the time, he picked up the game of baseball as a means to assimilate himself into American culture, fiercely pledging his allegiance to the Brooklyn Dodgers. While his goal to continue his education had to take a pause due to military service from 1942 to 1945, he eventually enrolled at NYU, where he met his future wife, Anna Pirraglia. The two eventually married in 1951 and settled down in Long Island, giving birth to three daughters- Bernadette, Alicia, and Pier- and a son, Peter Matthew. Work eventually took the family to Lancaster, Ohio, where Peter Matthew Alonso would grow up. It was there that he would eventually meet his high school sweetheart and future wife, Michelle. Job opportunities would take the family to Tampa, Florida, and it was there that Pete Alonso would grow up.

His baseball career started at the tender age of four. At least, that was what his father told him to tell people. The young boy showed so much passion and skill at baseball that the elder Alonso signed his son up to play at Wellswood Youth Baseball in Tampa, but there was a problem: Pete was actually only three-years-old. Because he was as skilled as he was relative to his age, and on the larger side, he was able to pass for being a year older than he actually was. The elder Alonso’s plan went off without a hitch, and Pete’s baseball career began.

All throughout elementary and intermediate school, he played on school teams, little league, pony ball, and travel ball. As evidenced by the deception that his father was willing to go through with for the sake of his son’s burgeoning love of baseball, Pete’s parents were completely dedicated to giving him any and every opportunity to play ball- and unlike most parents, his were in a unique position to help him. His mother was a former softball player, playing while attending Ohio Wesleyan University, and as such, she could pitch to Pete and help him develop his swing and eye at the plate that most parents would be unable to. “I would throw all kinds of balls at him, all sizes- Super Balls, golf balls, water balloons, oranges and grapefruits that fell off the neighbor’s trees,” Michelle said of her batting practice sessions with her son. “He always wanted to hit. My husband used to say, ‘If he could hit his mother’s junk, he could hit anything.’”

In 2009, he began high school, attending Jesuit High School in Tampa. He did well in his freshman year, but really came into his own in his sophomore year. In 34 games, he hit .495/.545/.770 with 4 home runs, setting new school records for most hits in a single season (54) and most RBI in a single season (53) and helping lead the Tigers to the Class 4A state finals. He did not return to Jesuit in 2012, instead trading in the blue & white of the Tigers for the black & gold of the Henry B. Plant High School Panthers.

In Tampa, Plant and Hillsborough High School were the major baseball powerhouse. Located just eight miles or so from Plant, numerous players who would go on to play professionally, a group highlighted by Gary Sheffield, Doc Gooden, Carl Everett, and Elijah Dukes. Numerous players would go on to play professionally from Plant as well, a group highlighted by Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. While Hillsborough has historically been the more dominant institution, Plant has been on the rise since the turn of the century. Located east of I-275, Hillsborough is located in Seminole Heights, one of Tampa’s poorer neighborhoods, with 44% of the population living below the poverty line. Plant, meanwhile, in the shadows of the Palma Ceia Country Club in Tampa’s Palma Ceia neighborhood, has a per capita income of $70,941. In an era where youth baseball development has become increasingly tied to money- personal coaches, superior equipment, better facilities- Alonso undoubtedly benefitted from his privilege.

In 22 games in his first year there, he hit .485/.556/.912 with six home runs, pacing the team in most offensive categories. He was just as good in his senior year, hitting .387/.440/.786 with 7 home runs in 23 games. He was named to the Tampa Tribune’s All-Hillsborough County, won Plant High School’s team leadership award, and most notably, was the 2013 recipient of the Wade Boggs Athletic Achievement Award, awarded to Tampa high school athletes who demonstrate outstanding athletic skills, exceptional academic achievement, good sportsmanship and exemplary conduct on and off the baseball diamond.

With a cumulative high school varsity batting line of .460/.517/.813 with 17 home runs in 79 games, one would have expected colleges and even major league clubs to be salivating at the chance to draft Alonso in the 2013 MLB Draft. While the bat was certainly impressive, his defense was equally unimpressive. Primarily a third baseman who also spent time at first base, his high school coach, Dennis Braun, lost track of how many colleges passed on recruiting him because they deemed his defense to be more of a liability than his bat would be able to make up for. The Florida Gators coaching staff had to talked into extending him an offer to play baseball there, but as it would turn out, it would be one of the best decisions that Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan would make.