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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Derek Morgan, a former Indiana Tech baseball player, embraces Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, who is Morgan's second cousin, after Alonso won Monday's Home Run Derby with Morgan pitching to him. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019 1:00 am

Indiana Tech connection pays off in HR Derby

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

New York Mets rookie Pete Alonso is one of the premier young sluggers in the game and he proved it Monday night at the Home Run Derby in Cleveland. He mashed 57 home runs, including 23 in the final round to defeat Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and capture the title.

When he hit his winning home run in the final round, Alonso thrust his arms in the air and then hurled his bat skyward before embracing his pitcher, Derek Morgan, who leaped headlong into Alonso's arms in celebration.

Morgan was an outside-the-box pitching choice for Alonso. He is the 24-year-old first baseman's second cousin – his father is the cousin of Alonso's mother – and the pair spent time together on vacations and holidays in their childhoods before Alonso went on to Florida to play college baseball and Morgan went to St. Bonaventure before transferring to Indiana Tech.

Morgan played for the Warriors from 2013 to 2015, appearing in 115 games and hitting .244 with 40 RBI and a .370 OBP as an infielder. He lives in Copley, Ohio, which is just half an hour from Cleveland, making Alonso's invitation to pitch even more special.

“Honestly just to be here, that's all that matters to me,” Morgan said after he had helped his second cousin win the $1 million prize. “Everybody is talking about him dreaming, and I'm still dreaming. I'm catching myself sitting here just flashing back to just the memories I had 20 minutes ago. It's just surreal.

“And all that matters is that he asked me. I'm just blessed and honored that he asked me.”

With prize money on the line that is nearly double Alonso's $555,000 salary this season, some players might have picked a pitcher with more experience throwing batting practice. Instead, the Mets fan-favorite made a choice that his mother said was “from all heart.”

“He said, 'I want family involved. I want my cousin,'” said Alonso's mother, Michelle. “Derek had only thrown to him three times. Three times. And (Pete) was like, “You know what, Derek, don't worry about it. Just get it over the dish, I'll take care of the rest.'”

Those three times Morgan threw to Alonso were this season, starting with a trip the Mets made to Atlanta, where the slugger had several family members in attendance.

Morgan threw well there and then pitched batting practice to Alonso again when the Mets played the Yankees just before the All-Star break. There, Morgan earned the trust of Alonso's Mets teammates, who were pulling for Alonso to win the Derby after hitting 30 home runs before the break.

“(Morgan) really got the stamp of approval because you've got veterans like Robbie Cano, Todd Frazier and Wilson Ramos making sure he's throwing money BP, and he was putting it right there for me,” Alonso said. “He impressed a lot of the guys, and especially all the coaching staff, too.

“They're really impressed and everyone thought, 'Look, y'all are going to win this thing, and they were right.'”

Once the derby started, there were some early nerves. Alonso hit just six home runs in the first two minutes of the opening round. He recovered to finish with 14 and narrowly beat Carlos Santana's 13. The cousins huddled to plot strategy after the round and, after that, it was mostly smooth sailing, with Alonso crushing Morgan's pitches out to all fields.

“The first round we got the jitters out,” Morgan said. “I think we figured it out after the first timeout in that first round. But just stayed positive and keep grinding and surviving.”

They survived until the end and then it was time for a celebration hug.

dsinn@jg.net