The inevitable became official on Wednesday: Reigning Home Run Derby champion Pete Alonso will participate in this year’s contest on July 12 at Coors Field in Denver.
Alonso made clear in April his intention to defend his title. He and MLB formalized it with a series of social-media posts, including an Instagram video of the 2019 Derby, edited so that Alonso’s head instead was that of a ferocious-looking polar bear.
"I had so much fun during the first one, so I was just like, you know what? Let’s do it again," Alonso said. "I know it’s going to be a hell of a time."
The only other confirmed participant: Shohei Ohtani, the Angels’ two-way star. He is tied for the major-league lead with 23 home runs (and has a 2.58 ERA in 11 starts on the mound).
The Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alonso’s finals opponent and fellow rookie sensation in 2019, has said he won’t take part this year.
Alonso beat Guerrero, 23-22, in the finals. Overall, Alonso hit 57, the third-highest Derby total. Guerrero set the record with 91.
The majors’ homer leaderboard is full of young stars, including Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres, Ronald Acuna Jr. of Atlanta and Rafael Devers of the Red Sox. A’s first baseman Matt Olson and Nationals leftfielder Kyle Schwarber also are near the top.
Alonso teased knowledge of the fuller field, aside from him and Ohtani, but didn’t want to ruin any surprises.
"It’s going to be a star-studded Derby," he said.
Like anyone else paying attention, Alonso has been impressed by Ohtani, who in his fourth year in the majors is finally the hitting-and-pitching stud he was in Japan.
"He’s having an absolutely dumb year," Alonso said. "It’s crazy what he’s able to do. He’s super talented. Not just obviously he’s got an electric arm, but he’s having a hell of a year at the dish. That’s incredible. He’s definitely fitting to do it. He’s got stupid juice. He can hit it over the wall at pretty much any yard. It’ll be fun."
A change for Alonso this year: his Derby pitcher. It’ll be bench coach Dave Jauss, who regularly throws batting practice before Mets games. Last time, Alonso partnered with his cousin, Ohio native Derek Morgan, when All-Star festivities were in Cleveland.
Jauss is a Derby veteran, too. As a Red Sox coach, he pitched to Nomar Garciaparra (and B.J. Surhoff) at the 1999 edition. Alonso was 4 years old.
"I’m excited to have Jaussie and be able to experience it with someone here in house, with the Mets. It’s going to be really special," Alonso said. "In Cleveland it was absolutely surreal with my cousin. And that’s going to be a highlight of mine forever. I’m really thankful for that opportunity and that chance we got to win."
Alonso will take with him to Denver lessens learned in Cleveland, namely the importance of conserving energy — wisdom imparted by then-teammate Todd Frazier before Alonso’s Derby debut. (Among Frazier’s other pieces of advice: Drink a bottle of Pedialyte between each round.)
Alonso estimated that on the day of the homer-hitting contest in 2019, he took at least 600 swings.
"My plan worked. The biggest thing was to conserve as much energy as possible, rest up, don’t take any extra swings," he said. "It’s a long day of swinging, because people forget about not just the swings you take in the Derby, but the warmup swings and then the BP during the workout that day. It’s a lot of swings.
"Less is more. The more I can conserve my energy the better. I know a lot of guys get affected by the high altitude. But for me, I love it, I love it out in Colorado. I usually spend some time out West in the offseason, so I know what the altitude is going to be like."
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