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TAMPA — For Pete Alonso, it will always come back to Tampa.

The former Plant High and Florida star set a major league record Friday night. His one-year, $14.5 million contract with the Mets, agreed to before the arbitration deadline, was the highest given to a first baseman during the arbitration talks.

Standing on the field in Plante on Saturday before hosting his Battle for the Bay, Alonso, 28, said the contract was something he could only dream of when he was hitting homers for the Panthers.

“(Friday), it was really special. As a young kid, thinking about it, I never thought it would be possible. I mean, it was a dream come true,” said the two-time home run derby champion. “As a young kid, you … just want to make it (to the bigs), and when things start to become more real, it’s like, ‘Okay, this is real.’ This is real.”

“So it’s a really special moment and I got to come out and perform, but at the same time I feel blessed.”

Alonso, a two-time All-Star, broke the major league rookie home run record of 53 in 2019. He has hit a total of 146 home runs in his four major league appearances and has a career .884 OPS. Last season, he hit 40 homers, had a major league-leading 131 RBI (tied with the Yankees’ Aaron Judge) and helped the Mets make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

For Alonso, making this career a reality began in Tampa, and he never forgot it.

Pete Alonso, cellphone in hand for a selfie, is generous with his knowledge and time during Saturday’s three-plus hour event at the Plant. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

On Saturday, he hosted a home run derby featuring top local baseball and softball players to raise money for his foundation. The Pete Alonso Foundation will award grants annually through the City of Tampa. The first will benefit the West Tampa Little League, where Alonso played as a child. Alonso said he wants to make sure the pitches are safe for young players to ensure their early experience with the game is a positive one. There will also be new permanent stops for Plant.

“Tampa is just a super-baseball-rich city,” he said. “Baseball is in Tampa’s history. And the game means a lot here, and being able to give back through baseball activism just fits.

“I’m very excited because these kids are so excited to participate and perform. Tampa is one of the hotbeds in the country where you get the best baseball talent at any age.”

Alonso drew in that hearth on Saturday with Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker, also a Plant alum. Red Sox infielder and Hernando High alum Christian Arroyo; and Gio Urschella, the Angels’ third baseman, who is still spending the offseason here after ending his time with the Yankees with a home run derby night. With former Rays player and current MLB Network analyst Carlos Pena and former Cleveland outfielder Travis Hafner also hitting, Alonso thrilled the hundreds of kids, parents and baseball fans in attendance by winning the derby by sending two balls into the parking lot.

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Pete Alonso, coming off a season in which he hit 131 RBIs to tie for the league lead, has had a stellar Major League Baseball career thus far.
Pete Alonso, coming off a season in which he hit 131 RBIs to tie for the league lead, has had a stellar Major League Baseball career thus far. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Alonso is playing for perhaps the most exciting owner and team having the most exciting season in baseball. Billionaire Mets owner Steve Cohen cleared the salary cap by signing pitcher Justin Verlander and reaching a deal with free agent Carlos Correa before the deal was announced.

“I didn’t really have any input,” Alonso said. “I mean, I just sat down and just put my feet up and watched (Cohen). I thought we had some great players on the roster and I thought it was great to make some new additions.

“I think we have a great core of kids. We have great talent. And I feel like we’ve made some really positive additions. So it’s going to be really exciting.”

Alonso declined to comment on whether a long-term extension is in his immediate future. He is eligible to become a free agent in 2025. Until then, he feels he’s in the right place to make more history.

“I feel like we’re on the cusp of something extremely special,” he said. “And I know we just don’t want to win one (championship). We want to win many championships. And to do that, we need to perform. We definitely have the talent to do it.”

Contact Kristie Ackert at [email protected]:.


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