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Tampa-born Pete Alonso thrilled that Mets are playing Rays in his hometown 

Mets first baseman Pete Alonso reacts after tagging

Mets first baseman Pete Alonso reacts after tagging out Arizona Diamondbacks' Christian Walker during the seventh inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Pete Alonso woke up Friday in his own bed, in his own house. He repped the Buccaneers by wearing his Tom Brady jersey. He got to see his dad, Peter Alonso, on his birthday, delivering a present in person. And he drove his own car to work — to Tropicana Field, the major-league ballpark of his youth.

In town this weekend with the Mets for the first time as a major-leaguer, Alonso, a Tampa kid born and raised, is a visiting player in name only. In every other sense, he is home.

"It doesn't happen often in the baseball schedule," Alonso said Friday afternoon of the homecoming and spending his father’s birthday with the family. "And it's truly a blessing from the baseball gods."

The circumstances of the schedule meant Alonso arrived here Wednesday night, enjoyed a day off Thursday and had part of the day Friday before needing to report for duty.

Although he was proud of the "birthday bomb" — a grand slam — he hit on his mom’s special day in March, Alonso wasn’t sweating the pressure to do the same for the other parent.

"I already got him a good gift. I just saw him a couple minutes ago," Alonso said. "Win or lose, or if I go 4-for-4 with four homers, it's not about performing on the field. It's spending quality time with family and just being there and actually physically being able to be with my family and to be able to celebrate his birthday."

"People in the baseball world, players at least, it's very uncommon to be in our home city where we're from or where we [settle down as adults]. It's very rare because we're all spread out the majority of the year."

Should one expect a sizeable pro-Alonso contingent?

"There's going to be a lot of people," he said. "A lot of familiar faces in the stands."

The Trop and the Rays were central parts of Alonso’s childhood — though, notably, he said he was not a Rays fan. He described his young self as "a big baseball junkie," watching whatever games were on television, which usually was the local team. Among the favorite [Devil] Rays he recalled Friday: Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton.

In 2008, Alonso and his dad went to a Red Sox-Rays ALCS game at Tropicana Field. As a high school senior, Alonso — then a third baseman — played there during an All-Star Game.

"This is my idea of what the big leagues is like," he said, "because this is my big-league stadium when I went to see a game. So it’s really cool."

The Tampa Bay area is a bona fide hotbed of baseball talent. Alonso played travel ball with Rays outfielder Brett Phillips and at Jesuit High with Lance McCullers Jr. of the Astros. After transferring to Plant High, he shared a roster with the Astros’ Kyle Tucker and the Cardinals’ Jake Woodford.

Other contemporaries included Jose Fernandez, Christian Arroyo and Oscar Mercado.

For Alonso, Joyce was the local boy who made good — so much so that when he rattled off a bunch of 2000s Tampa Bay standouts, Joyce’s name came first, ahead of truer stars like Longoria and Crawford.

No, Alonso is part of the next generation showing Tampa kids what is possible.

"The talent and the high-quality baseball they have here in Tampa, it’s crazy," Alonso said. "It’s great to be a role model. It’s cool to be an example. It’s like, listen, all the kids out there that have talent and want to be a big leaguer, you can do it. I used to be in the same shoes."

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