By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The hard work never stops for Kolten Wong, who recently completed his first full season of professional ball and reached the pinnacle at his grade level, experiencing his first champagne bath.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 first-round draft pick batted .287 with a .348 on-base percentage and .405 slugging average for Double-A Springfield, which won the Texas League championship against the Frisco RoughRiders (Texas Rangers).
After Saturday’s 2-1 clinching victory at Texas, where Wong went 0 for 4 with a walk, the 2008 Kamehameha graduate flew back to Oahu on Monday. He’s scheduled to return home on Tuesday, when he’ll continue his rigorous offseason training program of running, lifting weights and launching rockets at his dad’s hitting cage.
The former Hawaii second baseman can’t remember the last time he hit below .300, dating back to all those Little League days under his father Kaha Wong’s tutelage.
“I’ve always hit .300. I knew I couldn’t hit .300 forever,” Wong said. “The postseason was fun and it’s not about you. It’s about the team and truly about what we do — winning. That was the best champagne bath.”
Wong was hitting well over .300 during the middle of the season, then his average dipped toward the end in a season that included 126 games and 523 at-bats. Last season between
Hawaii and short-season Single-A ball, he played in a combined 104 games and had 403 at-bats.
Still, he impressed the organization enough to earn an assignment to the Arizona Fall League, which showcases Major League Baseball’s top prospects. Wong leaves Oct. 3 and will play against former UH teammates Lenny Linsky (Tampa Bay Rays pitcher) and Vinnie Catricala (Seattle Mariners third baseman).
“I think I did really well in my first full season, starting off at Double A,” Wong said. “Double A was tougher. In my league, there were only eight teams. If you did well against certain guys, the next time they would try different things. You’re constantly making adjustments
“At this higher level, all the pitchers have strikeout pitches and can command it. They’ll throw at a perfect angle. It’ll look like a ball, but it’ll catch the outside corner. It’s a constant battle and you have to know how to battle to get a basehit.”
Wong has been blessed with hitting tools — bat speed, hand-eye coordination and a short, compact and balanced swing honed by his dad — but quickly found out that holy trinity is not always enough. It helps to be a good student in the ballpark, too.
“It’s all about paying attention,” he said. “From the dugout, you have to look for the pitcher’s tendencies, where he likes to go, figure out what’s his game plan and work off that.”
After Wong experienced his share of 16-hour bus rides, he’s back at home ready to work hard — all over again, while maintaining the love of the game he’s had since he was a Little Leaguer.
“The most fun thing is getting to play ball every day, and getting paid for it. You can’t argue with that,” he said.