A 60-game 2020 MLB season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic was already set to be a sprint. But after missing 17 consecutive days due to an internal outbreak, the St. Louis Cardinals will have to make up for lost time in an excruciatingly fast manner.
In order to finish the regular season as scheduled, the Cardinals will have to squeeze in 55 games in 49 days, including a bevy of doubleheaders. Former University of Hawaii All-American and Cards second baseman Kolten Wong welcomes the opportunity.
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“It’s one of those things where the most important thing is to stay healthy. Obviously, you’re gonna be playing a bunch of games, you’re gonna be taking your body to the absolute limits so the only way for us to do this and to come out on top is to stay together as a team,” Wong told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “It’s one of those things where obviously we know we’re in a tough situation but you know what, this is a special situation so take it as it is, man, let’s go have fun.”
Whereas leagues such as the NBA shut down operations back in March when Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus, the MLB has decided to postpone games only for affected teams. As such, the Cardinals have played just 10 games through Monday while the majority of teams in the MLB have played more than double that amount.
Wong was not one of the players who tested positive for COVID-19, as evidenced by his availability for the Cardinals. The 2019 National League Gold Glove Award winner at second base led off the first nine games for the team in the early going.
“We just started getting into it. I think we were five games in and then this whole thing kind of went down and it was absolutely crazy,” Wong said. “It was just one of those things where you didn’t know what to expect but the next few weeks were tough, just not able to leave our room. We were stuck in Milwaukee. Tried to stay positive and keep your mind right but it was such a crazy thing to experience.”
The Cardinals returned to action over the weekend, going 2-1 against the Chicago White Sox. Wong is currently hitting .167 for the 5-5 Cardinals after Monday’s doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs, but he will certainly get enough at-bats over the next month and a half to raise that figure.
Although every MLB game played this year is without the physical presence of fans in the stands, teams have gotten creative. For example, some broadcasts will show a Yankee Stadium full of virtual fans, while other ballparks are peppered with cardboard cutouts of fans.
At Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals play their home games, three cardboard cutouts near and dear to Wong’s heart will be in the seats: cutouts of his late mother, Keala, wife Alissa and their dog, Duke.
“The only reason behind those three things is because my wife has been with me through thick and thin and we don’t have kids yet so my dog is kind of like my kid right now,” Wong said. “My mom, just having the ability to have her there, obviously she’s always there with me but to have her there and see her, it’s pretty cool.
“On top of that, she’s sitting in the green seats too so she’s on a good spot. That’s exactly how my mom would want it. She’s always wanted to be right front and center when I play so now she gets the ability to do that through cardboard and through spirit as well.”
It’s been seven years Keala Wong passed away after a long battle with cancer. Kolten does everything he can to make sure his mother’s legacy lives on in a variety of ways. He’s also started the “Kolten’s Crew” program that brings children with cancer to Busch Stadium for a VIP experience. Due to the pandemic, this is the first season that it won’t take place since the start of it.
Kolten’s eyes well up and he gets emotional as he talks about the impact kids from the program have had on him. Sure, 55 games in 49 days will present a daunting physical challenge, but it’s nothing compared to what he’s had to see others endure.
“Seeing what those kids are going through, seeing how they carry themselves, how they hold themselves up, it makes you realize that life is pretty special,” said Wong, wiping away tears. “No sense in worrying about things you can’t control because these kids, you look at them and they’re battling through cancer, battling through tough things, they have the biggest smile on their face. It’s one of those things where it’s like if these kids can do it, I can do it. Ever since I started doing this, it just changed my whole outlook on everything.
“It shows you what the most important thing is. It’s not the amount of money you have, it’s not the amount of cool things you have, it’s the impact you have on people’s lives. It really brings you back down to earth. You understand, man, I’m living a great life. I’m healthy, I get to do what I want to do and these kids, they’re struggling right now but you cannot tell. How they carry themselves, how they walk around, you can’t tell, it’s so impressive.”
For more on Kolten’s community efforts in the St. Louis area, click here.