Florida has one of the most decorated baseball programs in the nation.
Fifteen conference championships. Thirty-five NCAA Tournament appearances. The 2017 national championship.
Despite all that success, Florida has failed to produce many great big leaguers.
Enter Pete Alonso.
The New York Mets first baseman had one of the greatest debut seasons in MLB history this year, hitting 53 home runs to break Aaron Judge’s rookie record.
Alonso, who played at UF from 2014-16, is a lock to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He ended the season with a .260 batting average and 120 RBIs (a Mets rookie record) to go along with his record-breaking home run total. He also was an All-Star and won the Home Run Derby.
He’s already MLB’s greatest Gator since the 1950s.
The best player to come out of Florida is probably Al Rosen, who helped the Cleveland Indians win the 1948 World Series, the 1953 American League MVP and was a four-time All-Star for the Cleveland Indians.
UF has produced plenty of good Major Leaguers since then, but none on the level of Alonso.
Darren O’Day was an All-Star in 2015. David Eckstein was a World Series MVP. Mark Ellis, Ryan Raburn and David Ross all had long Major League careers.
But none ever had the type of success Alonso just had.
It goes beyond the numbers, though. The aptly-nicknamed “Polar Bear” donated $100,000 of his Home Run Derby winnings to the Wounded Warrior Project and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. He circumvented MLB rules and ordered custom 9/11 memorial cleats for his entire team to wear. He recently announced that he’d donate his pair to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
He endeared himself to Mets fans not only through his play but through his passion. Alonso celebrated his own accomplishments and his team’s accomplishments like a Little Leaguer. He wrote an impassioned letter to his team’s fans (and coined the now-iconic “LFGM” catchphrase) in the midst of the Mets’ 46-26 second-half run.
He did not just become the face of the Mets in his rookie year; he became one of the faces of baseball.
Al Rosen better watch out. Alonso, just 24, has the ability to dominate baseball for years to come. Pretty soon, there will be a new GOAT Gator in MLB.
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano. Contact him at [email protected].