Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Peter Alonso becomes Tim Tebow's teammate and a big fan

Peter Alonso, center, is congratulated by Gators teammates after hitting a two-run home run in the  2016 College World Series. When he arrived in Gainesville, Alonso realized how big Tim Tebow truly was to UF fans. [Associated Press]

Peter Alonso, center, is congratulated by Gators teammates after hitting a two-run home run in the 2016 College World Series. When he arrived in Gainesville, Alonso realized how big Tim Tebow truly was to UF fans. [Associated Press]

TAMPA — Before he was a top Mets prospect, before he was an All-SEC baseball player for Florida, before he was a star at Jesuit and Plant, Peter Alonso was just a devastated Ohio State fan.

While the St. Lucie first baseman was raised in Tampa, his parents grew up in Lancaster, Ohio, so the Buckeyes were always present in his household. The 2006 season, when Ohio State went 12-0 in the regular season and made a run to the national championship, was thrilling for Alonso.

Then Tim Tebow happened.

As a freshman backup to Chris Leak at quarterback, Tebow played a key role in the Gators' 41-14 victory in the title game. He threw a touchdown pass and rushed for 39 yards and another score.

How did Alonso react?

"I was heartbroken," Alonso says as he stands outside the Mets dugout at George M. Steinbrenner Field. He pauses to look at Tebow, his teammate with St. Lucie, who's signing autographs and, apparently, listening to what Alonso is saying.

"I was a Buckeye all the way," Alonso continues, his eyes occasionally shifting back to the dugout, "just a huge Ohio State fan."

"But I never really rooted against him," he adds. "I just hoped my team won."

A lot has changed since 2006. The Mets brought in both Alonso and Tebow in 2016 — the former in the June draft, the latter in September as a free agent trying to make it in a sport he hadn't played since high school.

Now, they're teammates in the Florida State League, trying to achieve their dream and helping each other out along the way.

"I didn't know what to expect at first," Alonso said, "but … it's been a great experience so far."

When he started to stand out as a local prep player — he played at Jesuit through his junior year, then transferred to Plant for his senior season — Alonso got some interest from Florida, a perennial contender in the SEC. Eventually, he decided to become a Gator.

Having lived in the area, Alonso knew the standing Tebow had in Florida football lore. Still, he said he was a little thrown when he saw the statue of the 2007 Heisman winner outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

"Clearly his presence is known," Alonso said. "Everyone that's a Gator is a huge Tim Tebow fan. At the school shop, they're still selling '15' jerseys, so there's a huge presence."

Over three seasons for the Gators, Alonso took off. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage improved every year, and he finished his Florida career with a .316/.407/.517 slash line. That production convinced the Mets to pick him 64th overall in the 2016 draft.

When he heard later that year that New York had signed Tebow, Alonso didn't think much of it. At that time, Alonso had finished playing for the Short-Season A Brooklyn Cyclones and was preparing for instructional league, where teams send their draftees and younger prospects to get more experience.

Alonso headed down to Port St. Lucie, which doubles as the Mets' instructional league home. There, he met his new lockermate, a 29-year-old outfield prospect.

"My first Tebow experience was there," Alonso said. "It was actually surprising — I was kind of like, 'Wow, Tebow's my lockermate.' "

As they worked on their game, the two hitters got to know each other during instructional league. Despite the age gap between them — Alonso was 21 at the time — he said they hit it off immediately.

Alonso has played the entire 2017 season with the Mets. While he missed time earlier in the year with a broken hand, he's been the regular first baseman when healthy, with a .285/.360/.530 batting line in 72 games entering Saturday.

Tebow, meanwhile, started the 2017 season in the South Atlantic League with the Columbia Fireflies. After he hit .220/.311/.336 in 64 games there, the Mets moved him up to St. Lucie in June. In addition to boosting his offense — entering Saturday, he's slashed .248/.313/.407 since the promotion — the move reunited him with his instructional league teammate.

"He's a great guy — you can't not like him," Alonso said. "He's a great guy, great teammate, and I'm super happy to be playing with him."

Even when he was a kid, Alonso emphasized that he never disliked Tebow. As a 12-year-old who saw his favorite team humiliated on a national stage, he just associated the Gators quarterback with that defeat. Now that he knows him in person, that's a thing of the past.

Gators football is now a frequent subject of discussion in the Mets clubhouse. Alonso is excited for the team's Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan — even though St. Lucie plays that night, he said he'll try to catch the action on TV.

As he stands outside the dugout, Alonso says that going to Florida was "definitely the best decision I've made."

"What's that, going to Florida?" Tebow turns his head from the dugout, where he's still signing autographs. A satisfied smile rests on his face. "Best decision that you made?"

"Yeah!" Alonso replies enthusiastically, smiling back. "Best decision I've made."

Peter Alonso becomes Tim Tebow's teammate and a big fan 08/12/17 [Last modified: Sunday, August 13, 2017 12:47am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Peter Budaj, Lightning lose to Devils in shootout; Nikita Kucherov scores

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday's season debut had a shaky start.

    The Lightning’s Vladislav Namestnikov, right, battles Damon Severson for the puck.
  2. Lightning's Steve Yzerman enjoying Nikita Kucherov's scoring run

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov, of Russia, celebrates after scoring a goal on the New Jersey Devils during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  3. Bucs journal: Offense needs to get off to a faster start

    Bucs

    TAMPA — The past two games have seen the Bucs offense muster furious rallies in the fourth quarter of losses, with 229 yards against the Patriots and a franchise-record 27 points against the Cardinals.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
  4. NFL players, owners hold 'constructive' talks on issues

    Bucs

    NEW YORK — NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, a session Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross called "constructive" and Colts defensive back Darius Butler termed "positive."

    A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on Tuesday in New York City.  Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing.
 [Getty Images]
  5. Lightning's Steve Yzerman: Nikita Kucherov 'wants to be great'

    Blogs

    If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Nikita Kucherov joined Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Keith Tkachuk as the only players in the last 30 years to score a goal in each of his team's first six games.