Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Darryl Strawberry cherishes the Mets record he set back in 1983, when he slugged 26 home runs has a rookie. It's part of an unforgettable season in his career, one in which he learned crucial lessons about what it took to thrive in the majors and how much callus-causing work was involved.
But the man called Straw does not greedily cling to the mark, nor does he want it to stand forever. Pete Alonso is putting Strawberry's record in serious jeopardy with each mighty swing and the former Mets superstar is rooting for him.
"Talent is going to come around and will shatter different records," Strawberry said in a telephone interview. "I'm hoping he does it. 1983 -- you know how long ago that is?
"This shows they have a good player in the organization, who's got a chance to break records. Not just of ordinary players, but players with great history in the organization. He can put himself in position to be one of us."
Entering Memorial Day weekend, Alonso already has 16 home runs in 49 games. He's the first Met rookie to hit that many homers before the MLB All-Star break and that's still more than a month away. Strawberry didn't reach the majors until May 6 that year and didn't hit homer No. 16 until Aug. 15.
Alonso is on pace for 52 home runs, which would match Aaron Judge's all-time rookie mark and obliterate the Mets' single-season record for any player. Todd Hundley hit 41 homers in 1996 and Carlos Beltran matched him 10 years later.
That's where the lessons of '83 come in, according to Strawberry. For Alonso to keep advancing in his career, he's got to keep making adjustments, keep striving to be better.
"I think sometimes players think, 'Oh, I had a great year,'" Strawberry said. "I've seen guys have a great year and disappear. You have to build off what you're doing. That comes with work, work, work."
Strawberry recalled the first time Jim Frey, a Mets coach in 1983, asked him to be at Shea Stadium at 2 p.m., hours before game time, for some early work. Frey waited at the batting cage, but Strawberry was a no-show.
"He pulled me to the side later and said, 'I'm never going to wait for you again. If you want to be great, show up early,'" Strawberry said. "It taught me something about how it's not going to happen overnight.
"When you're young, your talent is raw, but you still have to work to get to that next level of playing. Everyone thought it looked easy for me, but underneath all that, I was working hard, down in the cage, even when I was going good. Sometimes, guys think they don't have to do the extra work."
That doesn't seem to be a problem for Alonso, who by all accounts is an industrious worker. Told how diligent Alonso is about writing impressions of opposing pitchers and other reflections in a notebook after games, Strawberry says, "Oh, that's good. It's always good to have a memory of who you're facing."
Pitchers, after all, are going to adjust to Alonso. Perhaps he's dealing with that now since he is in a 2-for-18 slide over his last six games, though both hits are home runs.
"You just hope he continues to play well and develop," Strawberry said. "You have to go through the hard times of the game, too. What about when they come? Can you fight through those? That's what you have to learn as a young player."
Strawberry recalls enjoying watching David Wright pass him on the Mets leaderboards over the years. He admits he has not pored over every one of Alonso's feats, but Strawberry feels like the first baseman can join some exclusive Met company.
"It's exciting for fans to see game-changers," Strawberry said. "Hopefully, this young guy will learn this about himself and become that kind of player. It's exciting when you're that kind of player in New York. It's an unbelievable ride. They'll get on you when you struggle, but that's part of it.
"Expectations will be high when you set the bar like he's starting to set. That's what it was for me and David."
Strawberry counts Jose Reyes alongside himself and Wright in the troika of recent homegrown, game-changing position players for the Mets. "Those are probably the three most exciting," Strawberry said.
Perhaps Alonso can add his name to the list.
"Hopefully, this young man takes his career to the next level. It sounds like it's already paying off for him," Strawberry said.
"Tell him I wish him all the best, OK?"