Alonso hitting stride for Gators

The phone calls came within 20 minutes of each other.

Pete Alonso put on a show at the East Coast Pro showcase during the summer after his junior year. His power showed up in batting practice and in games with multiple college coaches in the stands. Shortly after the event ended, the power hitter from Plant High School got a call from Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, offering scholarship money.

Just 20 minutes later, Miami assistant coach Gino DiMare called Alonso to also offer scholarship money.

Alonso grew up watching Miami baseball teams play. Sitting in the visiting dugout of McKethan Stadium on Wednesday, he recalled watching the Hurricanes go to Omaha in 2008 with Yonder Alonso and Jemile Weeks on the team. In the end, his decision to play at Florida came down to finding the place he would be best developed.

“I knew that I was going to get better when I came here,” Alonso said. “And I think I have. I knew Sully was going to push me and try and get the most out of my abilities. That’s just going to help, not just me, it’s going to help mold all sorts of different players. We want to win and go to Omaha, and we’re doing all those things that I mentioned. I definitely made the right choice.”

Alonso and Florida will open the College World Series against the Hurricanes on Saturday at 8 p.m. (TV: ESPN).

The sophomore first baseman has battled through a difficult year. He suffered a stress fracture in his foot during the fall, but instead of having surgery, he rested it to allow the foot to heal before the regular season. However, the same injury occurred the week before Florida’s season opener and Alonso didn’t return until April 3 at Missouri.

He had one healthy month before fouling a ball off the cage in batting practice and having it bounce back and hit him in the nose before Florida hosted USF on May 5. With the broken nose, Alonso has been forced to play the field with a mask and hit with a cage on his helmet.

“At the beginning, it was rough,” Alonso said. “It’s tough to watch, be in the dugout and not being able to do anything. Then after I got back it was kind of like just getting the monkey off my back. It was just a huge relief coming back. It’s tough for anyone to just watch and then not be able to play. But I was just so happy when I came back. I had the nose thing and it was really frustrating with the mask – both on defense and offense. But then finally getting used to it a little bit, I guess now it’s kind of normal.

“Over the course of the year, it’s been awesome and I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had for the world. No matter what you go through it’s going to make you better at the end of the day.”

Alonso has moved around the Florida batting order as O’Sullivan tried to find the best mix late in the regular season. As the Gators open the College World Series this weekend, Alonso has stuck in the sixth spot of the order, one behind the red-hot J.J. Schwarz.

He has only three home runs in 34 games this year, but the first baseman has been hot in recent weeks.

“He’s been one of the power bats we’ve been trying to get,” O’Sullivan said. “Power is hard to get to school. He’s got power. Right-handed power is really tough because there’s not a lot of it out there. He gives us another element in the middle of the lineup that we certainly wouldn’t be where we’re at without him.”

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