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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets' youthful core will need to create a different energy with no fans to feed off

Mets slugger Pete Alonso jokingly slaps the behind

Mets slugger Pete Alonso jokingly slaps the behind of teammate Jeff McNeil during a workout at Citi Field on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

You won’t find any mention in MLB’s 108-page pandemic manual that specifically outlaws Pete Alonso tearing off jerseys, buttons popping, and then partying bare-chested after a walkoff win at Citi Field. Or Alonso launching himself at a pitcher, as he did last year with Noah Syndergaard, for a flying chest bump in the middle of the infield dirt.

But for safety’s sake, those two actions are forbidden just the same, lumped together with other social distancing no-nos, like high-fives and bro hugs.

And that’s too bad. Because as much fun as it was to watch Alonso destroy baseballs last season, just having the Polar Bear roll around in his element, gobbling up the adrenaline rush from the Citi crowd, became an essential part of that Rookie of the Year package, too.

You could also argue that Alonso’s larger-than-life persona, along with his unbridled joy for just playing the game, was infectious among the Mets (in pre-coronavirus days, when that was considered a positive thing). One of the Mets’ strengths was derived from the energy of a youthful core, anchored by Alonso and surrounded by Jeff McNeill, J.D. Davis, Amed Rosario, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Dom Smith.

So what happens now? With no fans and no physical contact, where does the fun come from? And if that superpower has been drained away -- think of the coronavirus as kryptonite -- just how much of a negative effect will that have on a Mets’ crew that rides those vibes like a surfer at high tide?

“Well, I know we're not gonna be able to do the chest bumps, the pregame handshake rituals and ripping the shirts off after walkoff wins, but we’ll figure something out,” Alonso said Tuesday during a Zoom call with reporters. “I mean, we have a really good chemistry. We’ve got some good things going on in the clubhouse, and we’ve got a pretty awesome group of guys.

“You’ll see some fan antics during the season. We don’t know what yet, but it's gonna just kind of come out naturally. We'll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Just like everything else during this bizarro year, when we’re forced to constantly come up with stuff on the fly, to adapt to situations this generation has never experienced. For Alonso, the answers seem to flow organically, either at the plate or pumping up his teammates. He instinctively made the right decisions. Leadership came easily because people gravitate toward Alonso, whose only role was being himself.

And by doing so, the Mets’ eventually reflected his personality -- a tremendous show of respect for a rookie. But in this new, serious world of spaced-out clubhouses, empty stadiums and shirts-on celebrations, can that mojo be duplicated in 2020? The Mets are playoff-caliber. They just need to find a way to flick that ’19 switch, to turn on the same electricity after the long layoffs in-between. It won’t be coming from the Citi seats anymore. Not this year.

“Yeah, it’s definitely going to be different,” Davis said. “I think towards the second half, we fed off the fans. It just kind of clicked. It's definitely going to be different. But you know what? You guys have all seen that we bring our own energy pretty good in the clubhouse and on the field.

“Obviously everybody's going to feel a little bit isolated, especially having our own teammates being in the stands, six to 10 feet apart. But we love playing this game. We enjoy being around each other. So I don't think it's going to be that much of a concern, especially it being 60 games, and it being such a short season. I think everybody is going to be way more focused than usual.”

Manager Luis Rojas spoke of the “roar” that can fuel young players, one that will be painfully absent this season. But he also understands the bond between this group, some of whom developed under him in the minors. The Mets are going to have to generate their own buzz, and even for a short season, that’s necessary to get through the nightly grind on a winning note.

“We’re getting prepared to deliver the show -- the one the fans want from the New York Mets,” Rojas said. “But we’re going to miss the [fans'] presence that we experienced last year, which was something special.”

We’re curious to see what will happen after that first walkoff win. The Met hero tearing open his own jersey, like Superman, in the middle of a socially-distanced perimeter of teammates? Sadly, things won’t be the same for a while. And for the Mets, the character-building from a year ago will be critical to succeeding amid the different.

The one consolation? Winning is always fun, no matter how you do it.

New York Sports