New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso is joining in on the sports NFT trend, but with a minor league twist.
Alonso, who is launching his own NFT on Tuesday on Blockparty, is auctioning off the one-of-one digital collectible and donating the proceeds to charity, teaming up with More Than Baseball, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting minor leaguers who need financial support with housing, equipment and nutrition, and his own charity, Homers for Heroes.
"I was a minor leaguer. I know how hard it is on 12-hour bus trips," Alonso told ESPN. "If you're not on the 40-man roster or you're just a regular minor leaguer without any big league team, you're making around $2.85 an hour when it comes down to brass tacks. To be able to raise funds and help out guys that need it, that are extremely talented because there's big league talent all throughout the minor leagues, I'm very thankful."
The art for the NFT was designed by Mets minor leaguer Tommy Wilson, who has established himself as a crypto artist. Wilson played for Double-A Binghamton in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the minor leagues in 2020. Wilson connected with Alonso in order to collaborate on the NFT artwork meant to support minor leaguers like himself.
An NFT, also known as a nonfungible token, is a unique proof of ownership over a digital product -- such as a piece of digital art, a digital coupon, a video clip -- and comes in the form of a one-of-a-kind code that's stored and protected through a digital wallet. The NBA found success with NBA Top Shot, an online forum for trading virtual basketball cards where fans can buy and sell videos of their favorite players and moments in recent seasons, with the trend beginning to spread to other sports.
"It's incredible because I know Pete did it himself. He went through the minor leagues," Wilson told ESPN. "I'm doing it myself at the moment. We both kind of know the struggle and the grind that it is to get through the minor leagues and to stay focused. There's a lot of different things you have to deal with. I'm super stoked to be able to give to More Than Baseball and hopefully help out some minor leaguers that need it."
In recent years, More Than Baseball has collaborated with major leaguers to auction off game-used cleats in order to support the charity, but director of operations Slade Heathcott, a former first-round pick of the New York Yankees, said the organization started experimenting with NFTs before teaming up with Alonso.
"I'm like, this is too good to be true. This is what we've been working on in the last three weeks," Heathcott told ESPN. "It means a lot to players, like having some feedback from players last year, seeing big leaguers finally doing something to help them, that's kind of the scene and the sense, and having guys wear [cleats] and being on national television and be able to talk about minor leaguers and the battle that they're going through."
The 26-year-old slugger first started thinking about creating his own NFT when he noticed Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski finding success with his own digital collectibles. More recently, teammate Taijuan Walker became the first baseball player to create and auction off his own NFT, with proceeds going to the Amazin' Mets Foundation.
Alonso decided to partner up with More Than Baseball knowing that minor leaguers have struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic because their seasons have been canceled.
"There's guys on my team were like, they're going on eBay to buy their cleats," Alonso said. "They're grinding, trying to figure out how they're going to get their next shipment of bats. Because if you're not a prospect or drafted very high, it takes like six to eight weeks to get your wood in. And then you could be, you can either not have bags, not have proper equipment."
With the recent explosion of the sports NFT market, Alonso is undecided on whether this NFT project is a one-off or the beginning of something more.
"I don't know if it's going to be the future, but that's why I want to kind of, I guess, test the waters so to speak," Alonso said. "I mean, for me ... this is just something that I want to do for fun and also help others out, which I'm really excited about. It's going to be interesting. ... It's kind of like a little test run."