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Oakland Athletics

Yonder Alonso finally launches his way into stardom

Oakland Athletics' Yonder Alonso (17) hits a single against the New York Yankees during the seventh inning of a baseball game on Saturday, June 17, 2017 in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

A pair of Seattle Mariners provided the most memorable moments of this year’s All-Star Game.

Robinson Cano’s leadoff home run in the top of the 10th inning gave the American League a 2-1 victory over the National League at Marlins Park in Miami last Tuesday night. Nelson Cruz delayed the game before leading off the sixth inning to have a picture taken with home plate umpire Joe West.

However, it is safe to assume that nobody had a better time than Oakland Athletics first baseman Yonder Alonso. The eight-year veteran went 2-for-2 off the bench for the AL in his first All-Star Game.

“I’d like to have this tattooed in my memory for the rest of my life,” Alonso said.

It was hard to blame him, especially since the 30-year-old was playing his hometown.

When he was 8 years old in 1995, Alonso defected from Cuba along with his parents and younger sister Yainee, who is married to Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado. They got onto a propeller-driven airplane with just the clothes on their back — and Yonder’s stickball bat.

Alonso’s parents took whatever work they could find to support their family once they arrived in the United States, usually working multiple jobs.

“We were really poor and my parents did everything they could for my sister and I,” Alonso said. “A big treat for us was when McDonald’s had their 39-cent cheeseburger sale.”

When he turned 14, Alonso began helping his family clean office buildings and warehouses that are located three miles from Marlins Park.

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 31: Oakland Athletics First base Yonder Alonso (17) singles off the left field wall during the sixth inning of the Major League Baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians on May 31, 2017, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. Alonso was thrown out at second base trying to stretch the hit into a double. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

“I guess it means I’ve come full circle,” Alonso said last week. “From cleaning toilets to playing in an All-Star Game. I guess it really is the American dream.”

The left-handed hitting Alonso was the type of hitter that scouts like to say they can “dream on” during his three years at the University of Miami. The Cincinnati Reds selected him seventh overall in the 2008 amateur draft and he made his major league debut two years later.

However, the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder Alonso never lived to his billing through his first six seasons, hitting .269/.334/.387 in 664 games with the Reds, San Diego Padres (2012-15) and Oakland Athletics (2016). Despite his size, Alonso never hit more than nine home runs in a season while also being hampered by wrist, forearm and shoulder injuries.

In 2017, it has all come together. Alonso has smacked 21 home runs while hitting .269/.368/.556 in 82 games.

A big reason for Alonso’s breakthrough is that he is one of many hitters who have become believers in launch angle, adding a leg kick to his swing to generate more fly balls. Admittedly, he found it difficult to change his mindset after always being a believer in hitting line drives.

However, after being nearly non-tendered by the Athletics over the winter before agreeing to a one-year, $4 million contract, Alonso knew it was time to try something different.

“I finally looked at myself and knew I needed to make changes,” Alonso said. “I needed to make improvements to stay in this game. I always felt like a strong guy, but I wasn’t hitting like a strong guy. So, I changed everything, and once I tried in the cage and really worked at it, I was committed to it. I tried to punish the ball and get the ball in the air.”

Alonso has been doing just that and it would not be surprising to see the Athletics, who are last in the AL West, ship him to a contending team before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Alonso will reach the free agent market in November. It is safe to assume he will not be going back to cleaning toilets anytime soon.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am for him,” said Machado while attending the All-Star Game. “He’s one of the greatest people you’ll ever meet and he’s worked so hard. It’s great to see everything paying off for him.”

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