Before they became best baseball buddies, Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil got acquainted while spending much of the 2017 season together in Port St. Lucie, Florida, the Mets’ spring training base.

Alonso was in his first full professional season, trying to figure it out with the Class A St. Lucie Mets, not quite the organization’s surefire first baseman of the future but an intriguing slugging prospect nonetheless. McNeil was older, less touted and recovering from injuries that relegated him to observer more than player during those months.

So McNeil was in the dugout one night when he witnessed what remains as readily recallable a Pete feat as any in their years of friendship.

As he sat in that same dugout years later, he pointed to left-centerfield, where the wall is marked as being 385 feet from home plate. Behind the wall is a scoreboard that rises a couple of stories. On top of that is a Mets logo that adds another several feet.

According to McNeil, Alonso blasted a baseball over all of it.

“It was the farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit,” he said. “That thing went 500 feet, I think. Landed in the middle of field 1 [in the minor-league portion of the complex] out there. That was the most impressive homer I’ve ever seen him hit.”

McNeil learned in that moment and during that summer what the rest of the baseball world has learned since: Alonso is an absolute force.

With his prodigious power, an increasingly well-rounded overall game and a personality about as marketable as any on the team, he has become the most valuable everyday Met — as demonstrated by his eighth-place finish in the NL MVP voting last year and a seventh-place finish in 2019, the highest by a Mets position player in the past decade.

The start to his career is such that Alonso has a legitimate chance of becoming one of the best Mets ever. He is missing just one piece: a guaranteed long-term stay in Queens.

Here is a look at the skills that helped him get there and what might lie ahead.  

A ‘euphoric feeling’

Alonso’s signature move is also his most important: hitting home runs. Since he reached the majors four years ago, he leads everybody with 146. In 2021, immediately after winning a second straight Home Run Derby, he declared in an interview on ESPN, “I think I’m the best power hitter on the planet.”

Going deep is the one act on a baseball field with which he most identifies and which people most identify with him.

And you know what? You never forget your first.

“I was 9 years old,” Alonso, 28, recalled with great ease of a random afternoon nearly two decades ago. “I had a really tough day at the dish. It was a doubleheader on a Saturday. I had a really tough first game, and the first at-bat of the second game, I just took all the frustration out on the baseball and it went over the fence for the first time. It was just this incredible euphoric feeling. I wanted more.”

And so he chased more. Although he obtained that first long ball as a souvenir, Alonso was so prolific a home run hitter on the youth baseball fields of Tampa that his father, Peter Alonso, developed a routine: get the ball, throw it in the bin, get the next ball, throw it in the bin, over and over dozens of times through the years.

That collection of homer baseballs — in “two big baskets,” the younger Alonso said — still exists in the family’s home.

As he grew up, his power left an impression everywhere he played. Astros pitcher Lance McCullers, a high school teammate, remembers an uncommon “thump to the opposite gap” from Alonso as an underclassman. Added Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker, another teammate: “Obviously, him launching balls now — he did the same thing in high school.”

During the 2015 College World Series, a year before the Mets drafted him out of the University of Florida, Alonso banged one 421 feet, the longest ever at the host ballpark. Three days later, another at 429, breaking his record. That mark stood until last June.

“The thing that separated Pete from most power hitters at a young age is he always had the ability to go the other way,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, Florida’s longtime baseball coach. “He’s always had an uncanny ability to hit the ball back through the middle of the field in the air and get loft.”

Anyone who spends enough time around Alonso comes to have a favorite. McNeil’s is that moonshot into the St. Lucie night. Brandon Nimmo and Mets hitting coach Jeremy Barnes picked the same one: the walk-off blast against the Cardinals last May, an inevitable-feeling no-doubter to leftfield that capped a tense season series that included Alonso getting hit in the head by a pitch (and, in a later game, a benches-clearing episode in which Alonso was central).

“He’s a special hitter,” Barnes said, “and he can do special things.”

Nimmo said: “To like finish them off in that way, it was pretty special.”

For Alonso, though, it was hard to choose just one. His favorite homer probably is his next one, right?

He rattled off several candidates: His first in the majors, in Miami in April 2019, stands out, of course. So does his rookie-record 53rd that September. Two years later, he got No. 100, which also is near the top of the list.

And then there was Sept. 19, 2022, in Milwaukee in the top of the fourth off Corbin Burnes, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. The ball soared 437 feet to left, one of his longest of the season. Francisco Lindor and McNeil scored. The Mets took a lead.

Alonso likes it because of what else happened that night.

“The Mets got their playoff spot that we hadn’t had in six years,” he said, “and Max [Scherzer] got his 200th career win.”   

The non-homers

For all you kids out there, a lesson: When Alonso hits a home run, he almost never is trying to hit a home run. When he notices himself falling into that trap, which he admitted happens “way more often than you would think,” he usually is good about pulling himself back out.

Consider it part of his ongoing, increasingly successful effort to become a better all-around hitter and player.

“Every time I try and hit a homer, I strike out or I pop up or I hit a ground ball or I swing at something stupid,” he said. “As a kid and now. That’s unanimous. Doesn’t matter, any level. If you try to hit a homer, very few times you actually do it.

“Home runs are a beautiful thing, because it’s always a really fun surprise.”

His work with Barnes, whom the Mets promoted to the top job after he served as the assistant hitting coach last year, is about keeping home runs pleasant surprises, not the endgame.

Alonso and other hitters often reference getting their “A-swing” off. To Barnes, that is as much a mental concept as it is a physical one. It means Alonso is at the plate, ready to cover as many kinds of pitches as possible in as many parts of the strike zone as possible, looking to hit the next offering hard — probably to centerfield or rightfield.

His ideal swing is controlled but violent.

“He’s gifted to where he can mis-hit balls over the fence,” Barnes said. “The last thing we want him to do is try to do more than he has to. Because Pete at 70, 80% has the capability to leave the yard almost anywhere.”

Alonso views himself as a hitter, Barnes said, not just a slugger. Early last season, when he was successful enough but not as powerful as usual, he spoke of accepting line-drive singles to the opposite field to drive in a run. Homers are good, and those would come, but he’d take what he could get, especially if it meant the Mets scoring.

For evidence of improvement, look at his frequency of strikeouts through the years. As a rookie, Alonso fanned in 26.4% of his plate appearances — a bottom-15 mark among 135 qualified hitters.It was a lot of swinging and missing, even if the overall production was great. His strikeout rate since then has dropped to 25.5% to 19.9% to 18.7% last year.

Alonso’s average has followed an opposite trend. Since dipping to .231 in 2020, a relative down year, it has improved to .262 in ’21 and .271 in ’22.

“We want to keep him as pure of a hitter as we can keep him and not just pigeonhole ourselves into, ‘Hey, we’re going all or nothing right here,’  ” Barnes said. “Because Pete has the ability to do more than that.”

The same forward-looking mindset applies to Alonso’s approach to defense, where he has long since overcome his prospect reputation as a potential DH. “Literally an hour before the game, this guy is in a full-body sweat,” O’Sullivan recalled of a college-aged Alonso. “This guy is not a natural player — he’s really worked at his craft.”  

Future considerations

A quick pause to note Alonso’s standing on the Mets’ franchise leaderboards.

He already owns the single-season marks for homers, RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases. He is second in career slugging percentage behind Hall of Famer Mike Piazza. In just four seasons, he has climbed to seventh on the all-time home run list with 146. He’ll likely crack the top five early this year. In RBIs, he is 17th but will get into the top 10 with another Alonso-like season.

The only element preventing him from being a virtual lock to break more franchise records: He is due to become a free agent after the 2024 season.

“We obviously would love to see him be a part of our team long-term,” said Brandon Nimmo, whose eight-year, $162 million contract signed in December made him a core member of the team through the end of the decade. “He’s been that homegrown guy who came in right away, made an impact and has sustained it — and that’s hard to do.”

Alonso, his agents and Mets officials have said they will not discuss his contract status in public.

“I don’t feel comfortable talking about any contractual stuff,” he said in February.

Did the sides talk about an extension during the offseason? Or in recent weeks during camp? Is there mutual interest in doing so before Alonso enters his contract year, which will create all sorts of hubbub around this time next season? They haven’t said.

But we do know this: In their new era, the Mets have prioritized paying players they like and trust. Nimmo, a homegrown fan favorite, established himself as a premier leadoff hitter and very good centerfielder and was rewarded. McNeil, a homegrown All-Star, won a batting title and was rewarded with a four-year, $50 million deal in January. Edwin Diaz, who was not homegrown but had as dramatic a New York turnaround as any player in recent memory, became the best closer in baseball and was rewarded with a five-year, $102 million pact, the richest ever for a reliever.

The monetary message from Steve Cohen: Take care of business and the Mets will take care of you.

“In New York, if you can find somebody that succeeds here, you normally try to keep them here,” Nimmo said. “We’re looking to have those kind of people on our team. They’re hard to find.”

A figure to keep in mind for any future Alonso negotiations: $225 million over 10 years. That is the largest contract ever for a first baseman, signed by Joey Votto with the Reds in 2012.

Nimmo said he has talked with Alonso about the possibility of staying with the Mets for a long time. “I expect that the Mets will be trying to take care of him and get him locked up long-term,” he said. “But with also the knowledge that if he were to go to a free-agent market, he’s going to have a lot of suitors. It’s going to have to make sense for him.

“We have a really good thing going here. It’s creating a culture of guys who have grown up in this organization or come in . . . and established themselves here and the Mets say, yeah, we want to keep you around if you can do well here.”

In the meantime, Alonso will keep going deep and have a good time doing so.

“He’s never lost the little boy in him,” O’Sullivan said. “Even though he’s having the success that he’s having at the big-league level, he still plays the game like he’s a teenager. I’m glad he’s never lost that, because that was a really fun thing to see.”

Pete’s best

5 – Most hits in a game, Aug. 19, 2019 at Atlanta

2 – Most HR in a game, 14 times, last June 25, 2022 at Miami

14 – Multi HR games (all 2 HR)

3 – Walk-off HR. last May 19, 2022 vs. St. Louis

1 – Pinch-hit HR, July 20, 2019 at San Francisco

6- Most Bis in a game. Aug. 15, 2019 at Atlanta

11 – Hitting streak, Aug. 15-Aug. 21, 2021

2 – Grand slams last June 17, 2022 vs. Miami.

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