Bill Hass on the ACC: Miami's Alonso Making a Name for Himself in More Ways Than One
April 25, 2008
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Yonder Alonso has heard it all when it comes to his first name.
"I get a lot of stuff when I go on the road," said Miami's first baseman, "but I think it's pretty cool. `What were your parents thinking?' Stuff like that. By now it's a normal thing for me. It's pretty funny."
Besides, he usually quiets the wisecracks with a stroke of his bat that sends a baseball... well, as some people say... way over yonder.
Alonso is one of the primary reasons the Hurricanes are 33-5 overall, 17-2 in the ACC and ranked No. 1 in all three major polls. The junior is hitting .379 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs heading into this weekend's series with 16th-ranked Virginia.
"He's our third place hitter and normally to me that means he's your best hitter," said Miami coach Jim Morris. "He's a unique guy in that he can hit for average and power."
In a way, Alonso was born to be a hitter. His father, Luis Alonso, was a player and hitting coach in Cuba and worked for the powerful Havana Industriales team. Baseball is a national passion in the country.
"My dad said he used to take me to the field when I was 1," Alonso said, "so I've been around baseball all my life. He told me the first time I picked up a bat I was 2 or 3 years old."
In Cuba, the letter Y is popular in a variety of first names. Alonso's younger sister, for instance, is named Yainee. So Yonder wasn't considered an unusual name until the family came to America.
That happened on Feb. 6, 1995. Luis Alonso, his wife and two children boarded a small plane, were flown to Miami and began a new life.
"The day before we left, he kind of let us know (what was going on) but not really," Alonso said. "In the morning, we went to a small airport, got on a small plane and we left."
Although it meant leaving relatives and friends behind permanently in Cuba, the Alonso family found better opportunities in America, especially for the children. Yonder, who was 9 and had been coached for years by his father, enrolled in an international baseball academy, where he thrived.
"I was so happy when I was on a baseball diamond," he said. "The owner of the academy helped me out a lot; he picked me up and provided all the care and materials I needed to play baseball."
Alonso eventually became an outstanding high school player and was drafted in the 16th round by Minnesota in 2005. He said he wanted to sign, but his parents thought it would be better if he went to college so he enrolled at Miami, where he has been an excellent hitter from the start.
"He's considered one of the best hitters in the country by pro people," Morris said, "and he should go high in the pro draft (this summer)."
A left-handed hitter, Alonso has a discerning eye at the plate. He has drawn 47 walks and struck out only 19 times this season, and his on-base percentage is a gaudy .548.
"I'm patient," he said. "Whatever they give me I take. I hit it where it's pitched. I don't try to do too much and I just have good at-bats.
"I have pretty good power the other way. I actually learned how to pull the ball here and it has worked out for me. Now I hit it to all fields. And I feel good if I walk - it means I'm on base and other guys can drive me in and we can win more ball games."
Morris said Alonso works as hard as anyone and shows plenty of intensity and desire on the field.
"He has paid the price to be good," Morris said.
Alonso is part of a power-packed Hurricane lineup, one of five hitters sporting averages over .350. Jemile Weeks, brother of Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, leads the way at .400. Alonso is next at .379, then Ryan Jackson at .377, Blake Tekotte at .372 and Mark Sobolewski at .351.
All have had their shining moments and Alonso has shown a particular flair for the dramatic. Two of his home runs have been game-winners. In the third game of last weekend's series against Florida State, he hit two more, including a grand slam that put the Hurricanes ahead for good.
"I was real happy to put us in a position where we could win," Alonso said. "I was real pumped by that. That was my first ever grand slam. I never had any in high school. It's pretty crazy."
Although Alonso said the team doesn't talk much about being ranked No. 1, Morris senses everyone is well aware of it.
"It does mean a lot to them," he said. "They've worked very hard to get to this No. 1 ranking. As I tell them, they don't give any awards at halftime. The awards are at the end of the season. It's nice to be where we are, but we have to finish it off to really complete our goal, and that's to go back to Omaha and win."
Omaha, of course, is the site of the College World Series, the pinnacle of the season for the eight teams that fight their way to qualify. Between now and then, though, there's a lot of baseball to be played.
"We've got to play better defense, keep hitting and pitching," Alonso said. "If we do those, we'll be hard to beat. We can't make mental mistakes and give opportunities for other teams to beat us.
"There's a lot of confidence. We feel nothing can stop us and we just have fun while we're doing it. We just care about winning ball games and getting better until we get to Omaha and win it all there, hopefully."
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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