What once was a novelty is now considered by many to be the crown jewel of Major League Baseball’s All-Star weekend.
The 2019 Home Run Derby from Progressive Field in Cleveland has become a must-watch event as baseball continues to develop into a homer-happy league.
Among the eight participants is Mets slugger Pete Alonso, the lone New York representative in the competition — providing a shallow consolation prize amidst another dumpster fire of a season.
The Mets enter the All-Star break 13.5 games out of first in the NL East.
Happy Home Run Derby Day! pic.twitter.com/ay3jk3CSdu
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 8, 2019
Alonso, however, has been one of a limited number of stories Mets fans can be excited about alongside hitting machine and fellow All-Star Jeff McNeil.
The 24-year-old first baseman is mashing out of his mind right now with 30 home runs through his first 89 career MLB games.
That kind of production has put him in exclusive company when it comes to rookie round-trippers.
His 30th dinger of the year on Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies put him into a tie for second-place alongside Yankees slugger Aaron Judge for most home runs hit by a rookie before the All-Star break in MLB history. Only Mark McGwire hit more when he recorded 33 with the Oakland Athletics in 1987.
Alonso also joined Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers as National Leaguers this season who have at least 30 home runs. It’s just the second time in MLB history that three players in the same league hit that number before the All-Star break.
McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Greg Vaughn — all in the National League — accomplished the same feat in the magical 1998 season that saw both McGwire and Sosa break Roger Maris’ single-season home run record.
Looking at the Mets’ franchise records, Alonso became just the second player in team history to hit 30 home runs before the All-Star break, joining Dave Kingman in 1976. Kingman would finish the season with 37, however, after injuring his wrist in the second half.
He’s only 11 off the Mets’ franchise record for most home runs in a single season, a record currently held by Todd Hundley in 1996 and Carlos Beltran 10 years later.
These are all pretty awesome records, right?
Things are only looking up for Alonso as he is the clear favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2019.
Not so fast.
There is a dreaded Home Run Derby curse that has lingered in the past, in particular against a notable Met.
In 2006, David Wright finished second in the Home Run Derby after hitting 20 round-trippers in the first half. He would finish the season with 26.
He hit just five in an injury-shortened second half in 2013 when he was the hometown representative at Citi Field.
Other notable drop-offs post-Home-Run-Derby include Bobby Abreu in 2005, Brandon Inge in 2009, Dan Uggla in 2008, and Justin Morneau in 2007.
However, Mets manager Mickey Callaway isn’t concerned with any sort of jinx.
“I don’t know, he has been playing Home Run Derby in the games all year. So I don’t think it’s going to mess his swing up at all,” he told Newsday. “I’m not worried about it. Pete is a good hitter. He knows what he’s doing, he knows what he needs to do to have success. He knows how to shorten his swing up in certain counts.”