Return to the Trop is always nice for Plant High product Pete Alonso

ST. PETERSBURG — Standing in front of the visitor’s dugout at Tropicana Field, Mets slugger Pete Alonso scans the empty upper deck along the third base line.

“I think the really special thing, one of the biggest games I’ve seen here ... against the Red Sox (in the American League Championship Series) of that playoff run in 2008,” Alonso says. “That was that was really, really special to see that. My dad and I were here, up there in the third deck somewhere.”

For Alonso, who grew up across the bridge in Tampa, Tropicana Field is where the vision of becoming a Major League Baseball player blossomed.

This weekend’s series with the Mets visiting the Rays is “definitely” a homecoming for the Plant High School alum, who maintains an offseason home in Tampa. He can sleep in his own bed, see his family and friends, and he feels comfortable back in the bay area. Alonso says he will have large groups of his Tampa people in the park this weekend.

“I love it,” Alonso says of visiting Tampa Bay during the season. “It’s great to come home.”

Alonso has played just four games against the Rays at Tropicana Field in his six seasons in the big leagues. He went into Saturday’s game 2-for-15 with one home run.

While this area has produced some of the exciting young names in baseball right now, with Alonso and his former Plant teammate and current Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker among them, area fans can really only hope to see them in visitors’ uniforms at the Trop.

Alonso, who had a two-run double in the series-opening loss for the Mets on Friday night, is expected to hit the free-agent market this winter. The 29-year-old has hit at least 40 home runs in his last two seasons and a record 53 in his rookie year of 2019. He is projected to get a mega, multi-year contract, which Spotrac estimates will be in the $263 million range.

While they did give Orlando native Zach Eflin their biggest free-agent contract in 2022 — a $40 million, three-year deal — the Rays don’t typically shop in MLB’s mega-deal free-agent market.

That’s not a problem for Alonso. The University of Florida product isn’t talking about his future right now. When asked if he ever thought about being a Ray when he came here as a boy, Alonso answers carefully.

“Whoever gave me a chance. I just wanted to be on that field one day, like whether it’s for the Rays or someone who decides to draft me,” Alonso says of his adolescent mind-set. “If the Rays had drafted me, they were going to get 100% of my effort and talent.”

Alonso comes back to the area every year. He hosts a charity home run derby with some of the many major-leaguers who spend their winters here. Proceeds from the event have gone back into the community. The Alonso Foundation donated a field tractor to West Tampa Little League and rebuilt the park’s batting cages in 2023. In January of this year, Alonso was the grand marshal at the Gasparilla children’s parade.

He is entrenched in the community, and Alonso says Tampa Bay is entrenched in him as a player.

“Tampa is just one of those cities where baseball is woven in the fabric of the city because we have great weather all year. I think my love for baseball was really inspired by just being able to play on a consistent basis,” he says with a big smile “And Tampa is one of those cities where there’s a ton of ball fields, a ton of people who play ball and it just makes it so much more fun.”

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