Pete Alonso, Aaron Judge remind us that it’s OK to dream

His first day back at the office a few days ago, Pete Alonso stepped out of the dugout at Citi Field, took a look around, walked over to first base. It had been a while. He put his hand to the ground to feel the dirt.

“I wanted to make sure it was real,” Alonso said.

It was real, and it was spectacular. And it gave Alonso an instant understanding of all he’d been missing, all he’d been craving, all he’d been pining for these last few months as he’d waited out a purgatory without the game, without crushing baseballs into distant destinations, without manning his position.

“Just being here, playing baseball,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I have a much higher appreciation for this game and for this opportunity. I loved what I do before, but now with this hiatus and everything going on I have this love affair for baseball, it made my love for it grow even more. It means so much to me and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.”

He’s right, of course. On the other side of baseball New York — “across the street,” as Alonso put it — Aaron Judge had spoken at Yankee Stadium Monday night about the dueling gratitude he feels, not only to have baseball on the calendar again but for the ability to swing a bat unimpeded again; the time off allowed his injured rib to fully heal.

“I kept telling you guys I’d be ready for Opening Day,” he said with a sly grin, “and I haven’t lied to you guys yet.”

Together, Judge and Alonso were already two of the greatest gifts we have in baseball New York, two tape-measure titans on either end of the Triboro Bridge launching balls over the clouds and over the sun. That skill alone is enough to provide a layer of amnesia for a portion of baseball’s ills — the labor strife, the testing snafus, the general malaise that seems to shadow it.

But then you listen to them talk and you remember something else: it really is OK to root for baseball to make it to Opening Day, to Sept. 27, to October, to whatever portion of it the pandemic permits. You are doing nobody a disservice hoping for that, showing no disrespect by wanting to see a baseball game on your television set again.

“I’m geeked up to play,” Alonso said. “Ultimately, before we were baseball players we were fans of the game of baseball. We all love the game. I’m so amped up, so excited to play.

“This is awesome. In a way we’re going to be a part of history.”

Said Judge: “There was never a doubt in my mind about opting out. We went over the risks. I’m ready to go. I love this game and I love this team and I love this opportunity we have here. We’ve got four months of locking in and going through all the procedures of keeping everyone safe, being smart and holding each other accountable.”

It is their earnestness that draws you in, and not just the words although the words do sound like they’re coming from a couple of sandlot kids itching for a good time. Then they step to the plate. On a Monday night in The Bronx, at the end of an otherwise dull intrasquad game, Judge catches one on the end of the bat and somehow muscles a ball to the warning track and you can almost hear an empty ballpark sigh.

On a Tuesday morning in Queens, feasting on a slew of room-temperature fastballs in the batting cage, Alonso composes a song all his own — the tune of a baseball clanging around the empty green seats in distant left field, the percussion of one moonshot after another, the melody of hoots and hosannas coming from his teammates.

And with those riffs, it doesn’t take much then to conjure what Citi Field might sound like some future night, too. They are our bookend Bambinos, and when they step into a pitch they make it all seem real, make anything seen possible. And they seem certain to push each other for a decade to come.

Alonso, 53 home runs as a rookie, spoke about how inspiring it was to see Judge hit 52 as a newbie two years before: “When he was going off in 2017 I was in the Florida State League and I remember thinking, ‘This guy came fresh from minors, if he can do it he’s paving the way for guys like me to come and make an immediate impact.’ ”

The road was paved, and it’s a two-lane wide enough for both of them, big enough for all of baseball New York to dream and wish and hope again. In these days, we are all rooting for the same thing, after all.

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