NEW YORK — Pete Alonso stood silently with his hands folded beneath a “Derby Champ” emblazoned medallion in the Citi Field press room Friday.
He listened to the words of gratitude from Lt. Gen. Mike Linnington, CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project, and Tunnel to Towers chairman and CEO Frank Siller.
Alonso immediately paid it forward, donating $50,000 to each cause. He handed checks of his own to Linnington and Siller, patted them on the back one at a time and thanked them.
“That's the beauty of it,” Siller said. “He's a young man that already gets it.”
Alonso pledged the money to both charities well before he toppled Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the derby’s final round.
The mission of the Wounded Warrior Project – which Linnington explained was “transforming the way our injured veterans are empowered, employed and engaged in our community” – appealed to Alonso’s family connections. Both of his grandfathers were in the armed forces, and he felt the donation was something personal.
But, for a 24-year-old from Florida, Tunnel to Towers is personal to his new family.
Wounded Warrior Project is an international foundation that reported more than $336 million in 2018 revenue. Tunnel to Towers, which is largely based in New York but has since expanded its reach nationwide, reported $23.9 million last year.
Even Siller joked, “Everybody knows about Wounded Warriors. Not everyone knows what the Tunnel to Towers foundation does.”
Alonso was first tipped off to Tunnel to Towers after a Citi Field security guard handed him a pamphlet about the foundation. Inside Alonso read the story of Stephen Siller – Frank Siller’s brother – an off-duty firefighter on 9/11, that got out of his car inside the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, tossed on 60-pounds of gear and ran to the World Trade Center, eventually sacrificing his own life to help others.
“That’s one of those stories where you just have to think this is true heroism,” Alonso told Yahoo Sports. “He felt compelled to go out there even though he did his duty.”
Alonso said he drew further inspiration from Luis Alvarez, a former NYPD detective that died of on-the-job related cancer less than three weeks before testifying before Congress to support the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Alvarez’s is the type of cause that Tunnel to Towers aims to champion.
“For him to know ... what we're doing here in New York, it just speaks volumes of what type of person he is, and what type of foundation we are,” Siller said.
The rookie from Tampa launched his 34th homer in Friday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, extending what’s already a franchise rookie mark at a rate that will eventually eclipse overall records.
His rookie success and derby victory has brought positivity to a franchise that hasn’t had much of it this season, and the city seems to have taken notice. There’s an extra buzz around Citi Field when it’s Alonso’s turn at bat. The team store – and various fan sites – sells T-shirts with his “Polar Bear” nickname presented in some form.
When he examined Tunnel to Towers, whose marquee event is an annual 5-kilometer fun run in Lower Manhattan each September, he understood the foundation was special to his new home.
“I didn’t really realize how big it was,” Alonso said. “[In New York], it’s real. Here, it’s tangible. You can see the effects on people.”
According to Frank Siller, his brother and the whole Siller clan are huge Mets fans. When Alonso needed 23 long balls to secure the victory in the final round of the derby, Siller watched from his home in Staten Island and felt something larger at play.
“Toward the end, when he was getting a little tired during the Home Run Derby – we had a lot of great Mets fans up there who gave their lives,” he said. “[Alonso is] going to be a superstar, there's no question about it.
“He's going to do good, and if he does good for America's heroes, then that's even better.”
More from Yahoo Sports: