Throughout May, Major League Baseball is marking Asian-American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It’s not just a formality for Brewers second baseman Kolten Wong.
His cultural upbringing in Hawaii has significantly impacted the way he approaches baseball.
“It’s the grind,” said Wong, who was born in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. “Understanding that nothing is ever given to us as baseball players in Hawaii. If you wanted to get seen by scouts, if you wanted to get seen by college teams, you had to travel. That was a tough situation for a lot of families because of how expensive it is.
“You tend to take every single opportunity — for me at least, every opportunity was, ‘This is my only one.’ I wasn’t going to mess around and ruin the chance my parents allowed me to have. For me, every opportunity was so big and so crucial, and I kind of carry that with me throughout my career.”
Wong did get to travel to the U.S. mainland once between his junior and senior years at Kamehameha High School. He attended a Perfect Game showcase in Cincinnati and performed for scouts before attending the University of Hawaii.
All of his focus paid off, of course. The Cardinals made Wong the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 Draft — a terrific first round for many teams, but unfortunately not the Brewers. And in the years since, Wong has been passing along knowledge and resources to other young Hawaiian ballplayers, including Brewers outfield prospect Micah Bello, a regular workout partner in the offseason.
“As a young guy, I was a lot harder on myself than I should have been. It’s all because of [my heritage],” Wong said. “It was, ‘I have to work harder than you guys.’ That’s the mentality I was brought up with and I want to pass it on to these young guys.
“I think the tendency with a lot of kids in America now is they’re spoiled. They get to drive a few hours and go to this camp or that camp. If you dig deeper and look around the world, it’s not that easy. That’s why our mentality is different.”