By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kean Wong was selected in the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Rays in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft on Friday, adding another page to his family’s record-setting history.
In 2011, his brother Kolten was picked by the St. Louis Cardinals with the 22nd overall selection, becoming the first ballplayer from the Big Island to be drafted in the first round.
The brothers set Hilo history as the only pair of siblings drafted with one being a first-round pick. The state history for brothers being drafted belongs to the Sardinha family.
Hawaii Stars catcher Dane Sardinha was drafted in the second round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2000, his brother Bronson in the first round by the New York Yankees in 2001 and Duke was a 19th-round pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2002.
Wong, a recent Waiakea graduate, was the 128th overall selection and the assigned salary value for that slot is listed at $393,500. He has a scholarship to the University of Hawaii, but said he would turn it down to sign with the Rays.
“I just feel blessed. It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I’m happy to continue that family tradition, and follow my brother’s footsteps. I’m excited and want to go out and play.”
Rays scouting director Jake Wilson told Wong to “enjoy the day,” and that discussions on specifics such as his contract and assignment would be held the following day.
“It’s every dad’s dream to have their kids drafted,” Kaha Wong said of his two sons. “To go through this with Kolten and to have a second son drafted, it’s unbelievable. Both of them were drafted because of their hitting. It shows that there are a lot of good hitters in Hilo.
“It’s what Kean has always wanted, a chance to go out and play pro ball. All his dedication helped him to get picked in the draft. It’s exciting.”
The Princeton Rays, Tampa Bay’s rookie league affiliate, are based in West Virginia and play in the Appalachian League. The Hudson Valley Renegades, a short-season Single-A team, are based in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. and play in the New York-Pennsylvania League.
One of those are his probable first stop on his climb up the Tampa Bay farm system. Both are far from home. At least he won’t leave his sense of humor behind.
“It’s going to be different. I can’t go into a forest and hunt. There are snakes out there,” Wong joked.
Unlike Kolten, who held his draft-selection day on Oahu, Kean Wong’s was held at the family home, where anxiety swirled in the air for over an hour. He said he was getting nervous as the picks came off the board in the fourth round.
But he hid his emotions well. Then on MLB.com his name was announced, setting off a celebration. Bearhugs all around from family and friends followed.
“It was the best feeling in the world, and I’m happy to experience this with my friends and family, the guys who have always been there with me,” he said. “I worked out last night (Thursday) and will work out later on (Friday).
“The work never stops. There’s always somebody out there trying to beat you. I’m going to try my best not to let that happen.”
On MLB.com’s list of top 10 prospects for the Rays, outfielder Wil Myers is listed at No. 1. There are no second basemen on the list. Wong, who batted .435 in his last year at Waiakea, was drafted as a second baseman.
The Rays provided Wong with an immediate case of competition. They picked University of Arizona junior second baseman Johnny Field, who batted .347 in 222 at-bats, in the fifth round. His slot value is $294,600.
However, Wong has versatility on his resume. He’s played catcher, third base, shortstop and outfield. He’s 6 feet and 192 pounds, a left-handed hitter like his brother Kolten, who called right after the selection was announced.
“He said, ‘Congratulations and welcome to the major leagues. Hopefully, you can move up fast in the organization,’ ” said Kean Wong, knowing that Kolten is one step away from the majors at Triple-A Memphis.
The brothers share more than draft history. The same work ethic is in their blood. It’s their most common trait.
Wong worked out with family friend Mel Jardine to shore up his play at second base. Jardine saw more than Wong’s improved play.
“He’s easy to coach, like the rest of the kids. They all come from the same place, from Kaha,” Jardine said. “Nothing is a given. They all started at the same place. It’s who works the hardest. With a dad like Kaha, you have to work hard. But with hard work that will get you somewhere.”