College World Series: Peter Alonso proving to be the key to Florida's offense
OMAHA, Neb. -- When he dissects what he has witnessed, there is one swing by Peter Alonso that stands out on the crowded hit list for Mick Hubert.
Hubert, the veteran Gators play-by-play announcer, begins to recall Alonso's double off the left-field wall in Game 2 of the super regional against Florida State. Hubert's voice rises as his mind replays Alonso's scorching line drive in the first inning that gave the Gators an early lead in a must-win game.
Seminoles left fielder Jackson Lueck, already playing deeper than usual because Alonso stood in the batter's box, barely had time to move before the whizzing ball was in his vicinity.
"The ball traveled 320 feet faster than the guy could run back 10 feet,'' Hubert said. "It went over his head on a line. That's how hard he hits it."
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Alonso's rocket over Lueck's head bounced off the wall to score Dalton Guthrie and shift momentum in the series after the Gators managed only two hits in Game 1. Alonso has been the ultimate momentum shifter since returning from a broken bone in his left hand on June 3 in the Gainesville Regional.
In his first at-bat in three weeks, Alonso drilled the second pitch he saw from Bethune-Cookman starter Tyler Norris for a two-run homer.
Welcome back, Peter.
When Alonso, Florida's junior first baseman from Tampa, was hit by a 95-mph fastball from Vanderbilt starter Jordan Sheffield on May 13 at McKethan Stadium, his mother Michelle immediately knew something was wrong.
Alonso remained in the game initially, but after advancing to third and watching his hand continue to inflate like a balloon, he went to the clubhouse to be examined.
That is when Michelle Alonso's motherly instincts kicked in.
"A coach's dream but a mother's nightmare,'' Michelle says of her oldest son. "Peter has a very high threshold for pain. He's the type of kid that doesn't give up. If he's hurt, he's going to do whatever he can. He's not going to tell the coach. He won't take himself out of the game."
Michelle immediately left her seat and headed for Florida's baseball offices. Once Peter was examined, she went into the locker room to see the hand for herself. The worst-case scenario played out in her mind.
In his Alonso's final season with the Gators -- he was the 64th overall selection in last week's MLB amateur draft by the Mets -- it appeared his college career might end in a very cruel way.
"I knew it was serious,'' Michelle said.
Instead, Alonso has written his own ending. Since the break was clean and he didn't need surgery, Alonso was able to rehab tirelessly with his hand wrapped in a protective wrap. He also rewrapped his bat handle to adjust to the injury.
In six games since he returned, Alonso is batting .520 (13-for-25) with four doubles, four home runs and 11 RBIs. He has batted in 11 of the team's 37 runs in the NCAA tournament and seeks more of the same when the Gators face Coastal Carolina tonight in their College World Series opener.
"I'd probably walk him,'' said teammate Logan Shore, who is starting for the Gators. "The kid's on fire."
In the 17 games prior to his injury, Alonso was hitting the ball well, batting .381 (24-for-63) with three homers and 14 RBIs. But what he is doing of late is next-level hot streak.
"It's a great story,'' Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "A story I will tell forever. I honestly feel every time he comes to the plate, he is going to hit a home run. It's remarkable. Every time he comes to the plate, everybody in the dugout gets quiet, everybody in the stands is watching."
A year ago in Omaha, the Gators finished third. Alonso, despite wearing a protective facemask on his batting helmet because he broke his nose during the season while trying to bunt in practice, had a memorable visit.
Alonso hit the two longest home runs in TD Ameritrade Park history, a 429-foot blast against Virginia and a 421-foot shot against Miami. When he steps into the box tonight against Coastal Carolina starter Andrew Beckwith, Alonso represents a formidable presence.
He has an opportunity to win Florida's triple crown.
He leads the team in batting (.373), home runs (13) and is second in RBIs (58), passed by teammate JJ Schwarz in Game 3 against Florida State when Schwarz iced the victory with a grand slam.
With his college career winding down, Alonso is taking time to enjoy the moment and has a renewed sense of appreciation following his late-season injury.
"It's incredible to come back here," he said. "That's been the goal all year. As a kid growing up, you just dream to go there once. It's a special place. To go there twice is kind of unthinkable in the grand scheme of things. It's an absolutely incredible opportunity, and we're going to make the most of it."
In Alonso's first game back from the injury, Michelle and husband Pete held hands when they saw him run onto the field. It's a moment she won't forget.
"He just did not want to go down as ending his Gator career by being hit by a pitch,'' MIchelle said. "He wanted to end it his way."
Michelle also won't forget a recent interview Alonso did. She was watching it on the Internet when Alonso surprised her by saying he was coming home for the night to watch the MLB amateur draft. Michelle was unable to make it to Gainesville because the couple's youngest son, Alex, had a lacrosse tournament.
Alonso took matters into his own hands and opted to go home for the night, which he told reporters meant a home-cooked meal.
"It was a total surprise,'' Michelle said. "OK, I better run to the store and buy something since I wasn't planning a home-cooked meal. But I was really excited he wanted to include all of us and be with his family. It meant a lot to us to be together."
Michelle delivered in a big way with homemade macaroni and cheese, crab legs, steak and shrimp.
Her son has delivered in a big way, too.
Hubert, who has been the team's play-by-play voice for nine of the program's 10 trips to Omaha, isn't sure he has seen anything that compares.
"It's one of the most amazing comebacks that I've seen," Hubert said. "When it happened, they were saying two to three weeks. You thought, 'well, that's good, but what's he going to be like when he comes back? You can't expect him to be hitting like he did before he left.' And he is. I didn't think it was possible.
"I'm not sure we'd be here without him. He certainly jumpstarted the offense when it needed it the most."