With family and winning in mind, Kolten Wong heads into 2020 MLB season with plenty of motivation

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Kolten Wong (left) and his sister, Kiani

Heading into spring training for the 2020 season, Kolten Wong was coming off his best season yet as a pro for the St. Louis Cardinals. The former Hawaii baseball All-American won his first career Gold Glove, earning the honor for the National League at second base in 2019.

At the plate, Wong hit 11 home runs and tied a career high for batting average at .285 while stealing a career-high 24 bases. He was also an integral part of a Cardinals team that won the NL Central and advanced to the NLCS in the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2016.

As eager as Wong was to build on his career year, the coronavirus pandemic put those plans to a halt. As athletes worldwide headed back to their respective homes to shelter in place and quarantine, Wong went straight from spring training in Florida to St. Louis and stayed ready as labor negotiations between MLB players and owners delayed the start of the season.

“I’m very confident where I’m at right now. I’ve been in St. Louis putting in work, taking live (at-bats) against anyone here,” Wong told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “It didn’t matter if these guys were in college, minor league guys, big league guys, we were just going and finding guys to face. It’s that hunger that you want to be better every single day, every single time you step to the plate.”

Instead of a traditional 162-game season, the 2020 MLB season will consist of just 60 games, starting on Thursday with a doubleheader between the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals, as well as the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Wong shares the consensus between many other players in wanting a 162-game season but understands that the circumstances of the pandemic deemed it impossible. Instead, he’s looking forward to the shortened season and the intensity that the smaller sample size will bring in the standings.

“I think this is going to be fun. Obviously, you want to play 162. That’s the whole thing about being a big leaguer — being able to withstand the amount of games and playing through that but having just a little 60 game season, it’ll be fun,” Wong said. “Every game is important no matter what. You get swept in a series, that’s gonna be huge. If you sweep someone in a series, that’s gonna be huge. So it’s gonna be fun, obviously no fans is gonna be tough but I know there’s gonna be good baseball because we know what’s at stake.”

Everything the Wongs do is for their late mother, Keala, who passed away after a battle with cancer in 2013. Kolten’s younger brother, Kean, made his MLB debut last season for the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels. He’s now a member of the San Francisco Giants organization and hopes to earn a spot on the major league roster soon. Their father, Kaha, is a renowned hitting coach on the Big Island who played two seasons of professional baseball.

But in a family full of ballplayers, the star of the family is sister Kiani, who played softball for UH from 2013 to 2016 and is currently a registered nurse at Hilo Medical Center. Back in May, Kolten took the time to thank his sister during ‘The Real Heroes’ project on Instagram to commemorate frontline workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“You look at her as kind of like a superhero,” Kolten said of Kiani. “My sister’s out there doing things that I wouldn’t want to do. I’m playing baseball and I’m lucky to do it but to put myself on the line like that, can’t say how proud I am of her.”

“It’s amazing,” Kiani said of Kolten’s praise. “I’ve always looked up to him my whole life and he’s basically like the motivation in our family and to get that kind of praise back, it’s what keeps me going with this job.”

Kolten Wong will have plenty of motivation heading into the 2020 season, which opens for the Cardinals on Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The upcoming season will be an option year for Wong, as the Cardinals will decide whether to keep the 29-year-old for a salary of $12.5 million for the 2021 season following this year. After that, Wong will have the freedom to pursue free agency in 2022. But the goal for 2020 and every year after that will remain the same: win a World Series.

“The goal doesn’t change. Obviously the mindset changes. I’m more confident in myself, I’m more confident in my abilities. I know I belong here,” Wong said. “I know I can play at this level. Now, it’s improving and I want to go even further. I want to continue to win Gold Gloves, I want to shoot for other awards.

“I want to shoot for that World Series. I’m at that time in my career right now where for me, it’s all about a World Series.”

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