Hawaii 5-9: Diminutive infielder packs a punch
Wong's determination could lead to first-round selection
Kolten Wong has seen the look, and, frankly, he thrives on it.It's a dismissive glance, one that says, "There's no way that guy can play." But the University of Hawaii second baseman likes the look that invariably comes after he's done his damage with his bat and legs. That one is more like, "I can't believe that guy can play." "I love it," said Wong, a junior who has the chance to be a first-round pick in the June 6-8 First-Year Player Draft. "I love seeing people, they look at me and think, 'He's really small, but he beat us.' I love that look. 'My kid's 6-foot-3 and he embarrassed him.' That gives me an edge. I have that fire. I know I'm not the biggest guy, but my athleticism and knowledge of the game is as good as anyone's. I know I've been trained well." Wong stands just 5-foot-9, but he's made more than one non-believer, well, believe. Wong carried a .375 average with 22 steals as his Hawaii team entered the Western Athletic Conference tournament as the top seed this weekend. Those numbers are nothing new, as Wong entered the year with a career .349 average and 30 steals over his first two collegiate seasons. He hits (and draws walks) wherever he goes, including in the elite Cape Cod League. Wong was the named MVP after earning All-Star honors and finishing third in the wood-bat league with a .341 average.
The training Wong refers to comes from his father. Kaha Wong played a little ball in his day, spending two seasons with the Reno Silver Sox, a then-unaffiliated member of the California League. When at a professional game at age 9 or 10, Wong turned to his father and said, 'I want to do this one day.' That, of course, is nothing unusual. It's something that likely happens daily in baseball stadiums everywhere. The difference is the younger Wong meant it and had the support he needed to chase that dream."He said, 'If you want to do it, we're going to start working. We'll get to where you're one of the best players out here,'" Wong recalled. "From that day on, I just worked and worked. I had to be good at every aspect of the game because I didn't have the height. The mental side, knowing what to do, being able to handle adversity, that's what got me to where I am today. My dad forced it into my brain. "The main thing was having the right parents. I had a dad who knew the game in and out. I had a mom who was there always to encourage me. My mom was the one behind him saying, 'You did all right [after a bad game].' I had the right parents driving me and showing me how to grow up and mature in the game." Typically, college hitters who perform well in their Draft years do move up as the Draft approaches, and Wong is thought of as a very advanced bat that should not take too long to be big league ready. But aside from his height, he's also had to deal with the stigma of already playing second base. It's not often a player enters the Draft as a second baseman. That's usually a position a player slides to -- normally from shortstop -- once he becomes a professional. Ironically, Wong might generate more buzz if he were a college shortstop, even if he was one who would have to make the move to second base anyway. But Wong doesn't see it as a negative, but rather another edge he brings to the table. "I think the good thing about being at second base already, I don't need to move over and learn a new position," Wong said. "I know the position, I know the ins and outs. I think that's a plus for me and might allow me to move even faster, maybe get a chance even faster." Once there, Wong hopes to join a list of Hawaiian hitters who have found big league success, like Lenn Sakata and Benny Agbayani. Then, of course, there's perhaps the most successful to come from the islands, another diminutive player: Shane Victorino, the All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. "I've talked to Shane a couple of times," said Wong, who added he wants to be a role model for other Hawaiians who want to play baseball and hopes to shine a light on the hidden talent in his home state. "He's been really helpful. He told me, 'Just keep playing and enjoy yourself.' You can't control what's going to happen in the Draft. You can only control what you do. I'm really thankful to have these guys who are from Hawaii to give me information so I don't go in there blind."