(BaseballStL) -- Every boy’s dream has come true for Kolton Wong.
Wong ground through the minors, separated himself from other hopefuls and got the call only a handful of draftees get; he was going to the majors - Busch Stadium where the St. Louis Cardinals play before sell-out crowds nearly every night.
But most nights, and unlike his career thus far, Wong watches from the dugout, hoping for chance to contribute instead of the steady role he always had enjoyed.
Wong’s minor league resume is impressive – in 280 games and 1,129 at bats, Wong hit .301, displaying decent power for a second baseman, with 99 extra base hits. He played virtually every game at every level throughout his quick rise through the minors, as well as his playing days at the University of Hawaii.
But now he has to bide his time, wait for his opportunity and hope he can impress.
Just 22 years old, Wong has plenty of time. But opportunities in professional baseball aren’t guaranteed so Wong is not wasting this one, even if it is minimal.
Every day at 2:30 p.m. during the current home stand, Wong is on the field with infield instructor Jose Oquendo.
“We’re just cleaning everything up. Trying to be more crisp with turning double plays, more crisp on fielding, getting good throws to first base, getting it out quicker. Just little things. You know I’ve worked with Jose for three years already and we constantly just fine-tuned everything every time I’ve seen him. So hopefully I can continue to fine tune and get better every day,” Wong said.
“I have an idea of what I’m doing at second base, and with Jose it’s just making it as close to perfect as possible. Now that I have the time to work on different things, I’ve been really working with him a lot on understanding what I need to do to put myself in the best situation to get the job done.”
Although he has played in 11 games for the Redbirds so far this year, many of his appearances have been as a pinch runner or pinch hitter, putting added pressure on him to produce in his limited role.
“It’s different, you know?” Wong said. “I’ve never done it in my career so far. I had maybe a few pinch hits here and there coming up, but to be used basically as a pinch hitter every day is a different role for me.
“But it’s good. It’s a good learning experience picking up a new role and understanding that might be my job come the post season so I need to learn how to get ready for those situations.”
But limited opportunities concentrate the pressure to perform into a single at-bat. Does Wong feel it?
“I wouldn’t say that. I know it’s an unfamiliar situation for me because I’ve never done it before. I just have to take it as a process. It’s something I need to learn how to do and embrace it,” he said.
True to the reputation of the Cardinals, his teammates are there to help him, should he need advice or support, a resource Wong has found helpful.
“I always reach out to everyone no matter if I’m playing or I’m pinch-hitting. There’s always something you can get. You can ask Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, even Matt Adams - ask them what this guy has. I’ve been asking everyone and trying to get what I can so I’m not going in there blind, so I know what I’m going up against and what to expect.”
Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny likes what he’s seen so far and while Wong may have put added pressure on himself at home, he thinks it has more to do with the lack of steady playing time so far.
“You never know what a young player thinks or what they’re trying to do,” Matheny said. “He had such a good start there. A little slow in Chicago but then really kicked it in in Milwaukee, and you know he proved he can take good at-bats against tough pitching.
“It may be something to do with being here at home, but I think it’s mostly that we’re not getting him in there every single night which is something new for him. But he’s going to continue to get opportunities to help us and he’s going to be able to. He’s just an exciting young player that the more we get to see him, the more opportunities he’ll get, he’ll have plenty of success.”