It’s safe to say that Pete Alonso’s sophomore season will be nothing like this Rookie of the Year-winning, record-setting 2019. Nothing in baseball is like it was a year ago.
In the pandemic, baseball looks much different — no fans in stadiums, no spitting from players, piped in fake crowd noise, masks on the field and even frowned-upon homer celebrations. It will make MLB’s 60-game 2020 season completely unique.
But with opening day here, there aren’t too many people more excited than Alonso, whose New York Mets started the season Friday against the Atlanta Braves. After slugging 53 homers, a rookie record, the 25-year-old Alonso is now hungry for a championship run.
He’s also just really hungry. Alonso loves to cook — he calls it a therapeutic and a way to express himself — so when he chatted with Yahoo Sports as part of his new partnership with Kingsford, it quickly turned into something you’d hear on the Food Network.
“Venison is a really great canvas to get some really great flavors out of,” Alonso said, alluding to his venison and sweet onion recipe he recently released with Kingsford, as well as some grilling tips. What can’t Pete Alonso do?
Enjoy our conversation with the Mets star on home-run celebrations, his approach to the 60-game season, fake crowd noise and his passion for cooking.
Yahoo Sports: Opening Day is here. Seems pretty incredible given everything that’s happened to make the baseball season happen up until this point. Does it seem real?
Pete Alonso: Oh yeah, this is what we’re preparing for all offseason, all second offseason. It’s just something that we’re wanting, wishing and waiting for and finally it’s happened. I’m just so excited. I feel like, for a lot of people, baseball is going to help. It’s going to help so many people have some sense of normalcy. For me, it’s grown a higher appreciation for the game. I know for a lot of fans, other players and people around the game, it’s done the same thing. It’s seemed like an eternity waiting, but I’m just so darn happy that we’re back and ready to go again.
We know tons of things that are different this year about baseball — no spitting, no fans, some players wearing masks and so on — but is there anything that’s been a tough adjustment for you that you weren’t expecting until you actually got back into summer camp?
For us as a team, our operations, planning and staff have done a tremendous job of helping us transition. The way everything was set up, it was almost seamless. There are a couple of extra checkpoints coming into the ballpark for safety. We’re staying six feet apart, wearing a mask, for obvious reasons. I think as a team we’ve done an absolutely tremendous job of making it a safe, comfortable workplace.
Have you thought about what home run celebrations are going to be like, social distanced?
Well, I think we’ll figure something out. When we were scrimmaging the Yankees, they were giving high-fives and fist bumps and stuff like that. For us, we know that if we’re on the field, we’re negative because we get tested every two days. We’re staying safe, we’re doing the right things off the field. But when it comes time to play, we gotta be kids. We gotta let the emotion out. We gotta play with our hearts. If you hit a home run, you’re allowed to celebrate. If someone were to give someone a high-five, it wouldn’t be the worst thing because there’s hand sanitizer every two inches in the dugout. So if a high-five happens, go get the Purell.
What do you expect the conversations at first base to be like this year?
Depends on the guy. If I know someone, I’ll say what’s up. I feel like I’m a pretty talkative guy. Last year, I was talking to Freddie Freeman about wine over there at first base. I remember Anthony Rendon last year. I said, “Anthony, you’re a hell of a player, I really respect you and like you a lot, but I’m really tired of you being on base. I’m tired of seeing you here” He laughed. It’s friendly, competitive banter.
Do you think fans are going to hear more this year of what players say to each other during the game since it’s quieter?
What are they going to hear?
I guess people are going to have to find out and tune in.
Are you pro or anti the fake crowd noise that we’re going to get piped in?
It’s definitely weird because there’s no one in the stands and you’re hearing noise. It’s definitely odd. For me, I can take it or leave it. If they were going to get rid of it and punt it, I wouldn’t be mad. If they were going to keep it, I wouldn’t be mad. I know it’s a league-wide thing, but in the NBA they play music during the game. I think that would be cool if we were going to do something else.
You’re joining us today on behalf of Kingsford, who tell me you have a passion for grilling. Have been you cooking more during the pandemic?
Oh, of course. At the start of it, I cooked all of our meals at home. Cooking is a huge, huge passion of mine. Cooking is another form of art, a way of expressing myself. I’m not necessarily a fancy Michelin-star chef, but it’s not about presentation, it’s about the process and enjoying the food. For me, I use a ton of simple ingredients to capture an elevated taste. I try to do simple, extremely well. Obviously executing a recipe is important, but for me, I try some different things. I always try to heighten the meal experience. I cook with love. I know that can sound cheesy or cliche, but I care about my food, I care about doing it justice. I think that extra care, especially when it comes to taste, goes a long way.
I know we’re not really doing this kind of thing right now, but if someone was coming over for dinner and you were going to grill something for them and try to impress them, what would it be?
Well, it depends, I gotta read the crowd. I gotta know who’s coming over. But for me, I love cooking steak, I love cooking wild game. I love venison. I love lamb. Basically, I love anything that came off the ark. I tried a new dish this offseason, it’s called osso buco, it’s an Italian-style dish. I did it really, really well. I cooked it up in the Traeger instead of the oven — having that extra wood flavor totally bought it to a whole ‘nother level. I love trying new things and doing it a little bit extra and enhancing it a bit.
Is there anyone else in baseball that’s known for being a really good chef?
I know Yu Darvish is a huge, huge foodie. I know a lot of guys that love good food, but I don’t know if anyone talks about loving to cook. A lot of the guys love to grill. For me, cooking is therapeutic. Ultimately, I love the process. I love finding the good, quality fresh ingredients, I just think that helps the quality of the meal. Knowing where my stuff comes from, especially if I were to go fishing or something, then it’s going to taste so fresh and amazing.
It sounds like next offseason, we gotta get you on the Food Network.
Maybe post-baseball, that would be great. I love food. It’s a huge passion of mine. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and on the grill with both my parents. It’s not just eating a good meal, spending that time in the kitchen during meal prep and the cooking stage is quality family time. It’s not just my parents, it was spending time with both my grandpas in the kitchen, both of them really knew how to cook. My grandpa on my dad’s side, he’s from Barcelona, he’s an absolute magician in the kitchen. He can make any meal feel like a five-star course. My grandpa on my mom’s side, he had a green thumb. He had his own garden. He introduced me to the outdoors, taught me how to fish, taught me how to shoot a gun, taught me how to shoot a bow-and-arrow, how to respect the land and respect the food that you’re eating. And in order to respect the food, you need to make it taste good.
You guys are in a really tough division, strategically, what changes in the 60-game season vs. a 162-game season?
Nothing. You still gotta win games. Every out, every pitch just means more because you have a shorter sample size. You can make this the equivalent to a college season because a college season is 56 games or 54 games. A lot of guys on the team, they know what it’s like to play in that environment and play for a championship. From start, from the jump, we need to be locked in. With the talent that we have, I feel like we’re in a really good position and we just need to be relentless and just go out there and take it. We have a really amazing opportunity in front of us and we just have to capture.
Have you figured out what’s a “good” number of home runs in 60 games. We know that 40 home runs is good in a 162-game season. Have you thought about what’s goo in 60 games?
In college, I hit 14 in 60-ish games, but that was college. Honestly, I can’t give you a number. I’m not really worried about offensive numbers or defensive numbers, I just want to win a championship. However I can help this year, that’s how I’m going to help. Right from the start, it’s going to be a playoff push.
It’s different for every team and every player, obviously, but looking at the league as a whole, do you feel like hitters have an advantage during this weird start, or will pitchers have the advantage?
It just depends on the individual player and how they prepared. I guess we’ll find out when we start the games.
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