Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The shadier side of human nature tells us that this should be a relationship full of side-eye, judgmental head shakes and half-hearted high-fives, even during happy home run celebrations.
Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith are both first basemen, after all. If one guy has the job, that means the other does not. You love the co-worker who's up for the same promotion you are? Yeah, sure. Frenemies is more like it, forced smiles and all.
But something wonderful has happened this Mets season as two young talents are establishing themselves in the Major Leagues: Alonso and Smith have formed an engaging friendship that's obvious each time the Mets dugout explodes when one or the other has done something big.
Fans are charmed by their rapport. City tabloid columnists remark on it. Alonso and Smith? They're getting a kick out of it all, whether it's dinner at a swanky Miami steakhouse, supportive counsel in the clubhouse or a friendly crack to keep each other laughing during a long season that's already had rough patches. Their teammates enjoy it, too.
With National Best Friends Day on Saturday, SNY offers a look at these pals, both of whom might have big baseball futures ahead of them, in their own words. We got some help from teammates, too, because the bonds extend even deeper into the clubhouse than just the guys who play first base.
PETE ALONSO: We played together in Vegas last year (in Triple-A). That's kind of when we were first teammates. We saw each other before, but we were never at the same level for an extended period of time. He was kind of up and down in Triple-A last year, so we never really got to be in the same locker room for more than a couple weeks at a time. Really, it was in spring training where we started to become good buddies. Me and him are kind of in the same boat, two young kids, following a dream, working hard to help this team, whichever role that is that day. We push each other.
He's just a fun guy to be around. He's been such an amazing teammate. He's not just supportive of me or himself, he's supportive to everybody and that's infectious. I haven't seen him ever be in a bad mood or get down on himself or anyone else.
DOMINIC SMITH: Coming into spring training, we knew all the hype and what was at stake. We also know we're young, both two talented players. We knew we could help the Mets win games and we wanted to make it tough on the team and that's what I told him in spring: 'Hey, let's make it tough on them. At the time, you're not on the 40-man, so it's going to be kind of tough to break with the team, so you'll have to do something special.' For me, as well, I'm coming off a bad stint the last year and a half. I knew it was important for me to do well in camp. We just kind of fed off each other and had a good time."
That was one thing we talked about in spring. We have so much control time left. We can sit here and make this miserable or try to compete. We're teammates. We're all trying to accomplish the same thing and that's win a World Series. How about we make this fun and feed off the energy and win ballgames and make this exciting? How about we just bring the energy and passion for the game we have every day and try to make this team good? That's all we want to do.
Both players seem amused by the idea that guys who play the same position should be at odds. They don't see it that way.
ALONSO: At first, people were kind of shocked. I want him to do well. I want everyone to do well. We're a team. That's the part where people are like, 'You're competing for a job, you play the same position, there's got to be some sort of confrontation.' Me and him, we're just two buddies. We're just playing the game that we love. Every time he goes up there and gets a big hit or has a good at-bat, I'm stoked. It's just a positive friendship. The idea, 'Oh, you gotta hate the guy.' You don't have to. It's just been good vibes so far. It's not forced, no, no, no. He's a super genuine dude. He's upfront. If he says something you don't like, it's honest. It's his honest opinion and I feel like with any good friendship, you've got to have someone be completely honest with you, whether you like it or not.
J.D. DAVIS: You can go along with saying the natural instinct for any human being, if you're competing against someone, is to hate that person. But at the end of the day, both those guys have a skill set that this team needs. When you're negative as a teammate and trying to root against somebody, it not only affects you, but it affects the team. It puts more pressure on you. You can't execute anything because you're worrying about someone else. So I think it speaks a lot more about the character of Dom and Pete, about how, from the get-go, it was a competition from day one, but they're always cheering for each other, no matter what. At the end of the day, it's a selfish thing to just worry about yourself. If we win because of Dom's hit or off Pete's hit, the team wins and that's all that matters.
When you go into the Mets home clubhouse through the front entrance, you see that Smith and Alonso have lockers next to each other along the left wall. A cluster of younger players are in the same area. Davis is next to Smith and Alonso is on the other side of Smith. Pitchers dominate the right side and veterans generally get more room.
On a recent day, Alonso walked past wearing a T-shirt that had cartoons of Mets players in the form of their "spirit animals." Alonso, of course, was a polar bear. Where was Smith?
ALONSO: He wasn't on there. He didn't give me his animal. He was going back and forth, but he gave me the animal too late. His was a rhino.
The rhino may hear some good-natured ribbing about that. It's part of the daily routine among friends and Davis, Jeff McNeil and some of the other younger Mets who advanced through the system at the same time get involved, too. Who's funnier, Alonso or Smith?
JEFF McNEIL: Dom. Well, they both have their moments. Pete's got some good imitations of old coaches. And Dom is just Dom, kinda goofy, funny. Pete's always talking about his Florida Gators, I'm always talking about the Long Beach State dirtbags, so we're always joking around. J.D. went to my rival college (Cal State Fullerton), so we'll give each other a hard time.
ALONSO: We jock each other's chops once in a while, day-to-day stuff. My college sent me some spikes and I wore them because they're orange and blue and Dom was like, 'Man, close the yearbook. College was like three years ago.' It's all fun and good-hearted."
On road trips, Alonso and Smith are sometimes part of a group that goes out for dinner. One was a memorable post-game feast in Miami at Nusr-Et Steakhouse. Other times, they'll gather in someone's room for video games. Davis brings his PS4 on the road.
SMITH: We always go to a really nice steakhouse. In Miami, it was the Salt Bae guy (Nusret Gokce), the famous chef on Instagram, his place. It was delicious. We had a rib cap that was unbelievable. Definitely worth the price. We try to do those dinners. We feel like it's a good time to bond with the boys. At home, there's so much going on.
ALONSO: It's not just a select group. It's whoever wants to come. Other guys may have their girlfriend or wife in town. But if we're available, we like to go to dinner and just kind of be normal people. We shoot the breeze without having to be at the field. Some people think the locker room is just a locker room, but for us, this is our office. Being outside a quote-unquote office setting is kind of nice.
SMITH: A lot of times, we just hang out in the hotel room and kick it, talk about the game, laugh, joke around, play video games. I'm more of a watcher on the video games. I'm not good at video games. I'm in there for the fun and to crack the jokes and keep everybody smiling and laughing. They play Call of Duty and Fortnite. They have the headsets on. They get after it."
ALONSO: I love playing FIFA. Some of them have MLB The Show, which is kind of funny. I played that with Jeff and I'm the worst MLB The Show player ever. Thank God I can play baseball. Being a Major League Baseball player doesn't translate to being a successful video game player.
McNEIL: I play only a little bit. They order cookies and stuff. I'm just there for the cookies. They got cookies in the room? Be right over.
The dinners, the jokes, the bonding, even the cookies, all add up to a growing bond among a young core on the Mets. Davis says he hopes they can do what the Astros and Royals did once their youngsters bloomed together and those clubs won World Series. Maybe the connection between Alonso and Smith, as improbable as it might seem to a cynic, was the start of something.
SMITH: It's been working. You see both of us playing well. We've got a really interesting team, a fun team and we're capable of doing a lot. It's just a matter of time until we do what we're capable of doing.