When New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso won Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby this week at Progressive Field, most local fans in attendance weren’t happy.
That’s because Alonso beat the local favorite — Indians first baseman Carlos Santana — in the first round.
It should be noted, however, that without help from one local baseball player, Alonso would not have won the contest.
Woodridge assistant baseball coach Derek Morgan served as Alonso’s pitcher Monday during the derby, helping Alonso win the title. Alonso and Morgan are cousins.
Morgan said Wednesday that he’s still buzzing after the derby.
“It’s just unreal. It’s a dream come true,” Morgan said. “Pete and I, we keep smacking ourselves in the face saying. ‘Hey, are we going to wake up yet?’ We’re not dreaming. It’s real.”
Woodridge head baseball coach Dennis Dever, who coached Morgan during his high school days, was thrilled for his young assistant.
“Derek is very excited about it,” Dever said. “I think it’s just a really cool story for Derek and his cousin. We’re just really excited for him.”
A 2010 graduate of Woodridge and 2015 graduate of the Indiana Institute of Technology, Morgan has served as an assistant coach at his alma mater the last three seasons. He lives in Copley.
Although Morgan grew up in Cuyahoga Falls and Alonso grew up around Tampa, Florida, the cousins have shared a life-long friendship and love of baseball.
When Morgan attended the Mets’ Opening Day game in Washington, D.C., in March, Alonso had a premonition that he might need his cousin as a pitcher for the derby.
“He said, 'Hey man, I might need you in mid-summer,' ” Morgan recalled. “When it clicked what was taking about I was like, ‘No.’ It was kind of a joke for us. And then it happened.
“We just always were in contact with each other,” Morgan added. “It’s just a family thing.”
Once Alonso was announced as part of the derby, Morgan said the two began practicing together, once in Atlanta and once in New York ahead of the All-Star weekend.
“He has a desired location. He calls it the ‘honey hole,’ " Morgan said. “I asked him if I needed to go faster or slower. He told me, ‘It’s perfect.’ If I get it over the plate, he hits it.”
Decked out in a black All-Star jersey, Morgan had a long night of tossing baseballs, as Alonso belted 67 home runs over the course of three rounds
“I was hoping for a high ERA that night,” he said. “The adrenaline was so high, I felt fine. My arm was sore today a bit.”
A lifelong Indians fan, Morgan said he didn’t feel any nerves pitching at Progressive Field — until Indians fans started booing him and Alonso because they wanted Santana to win. Morgan put his first two pitches in the dirt.
“It was just crazy. It’s the home run derby; you never hear guys getting booed,” Morgan said. “When you think about it, it is the home town guy, though.”
Overcoming the boos and nerves, Morgan helped Alonso win his round-one matchup with Santana 14-13. Alonso belted the decisive home run as the buzzer sounded.
In the semifinal round, Alonso again advanced with a one home run advantage, as he bested the Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. 20-19.
In the final, Alonso faced off with Toronto rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who had set a new record for home runs in a single round with 29 earlier in the night. However, Alonso again won by one home run, winning 23-22 to claim the title.
“I thought we had a pretty good chance to win,” Morgan said. “He lives for those moments. I’m a grinder and a competitor like he is. We came out on top.”
Morgan threw a ball into the air and leapt into Alonso’s arms after he belted the 23rd home run over the left-center field wall. Alonso won $1 million for winning the derby.
“It’s surreal. It’s just awesome. I feel like my head is in the clouds.” Morgan said. “Just being a part of it was enough for me. If he makes it back to another derby, I’d love to be there. I can’t explain the experience.”
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO