It’s hard not to see the similarities between Kurt Suzuki and Kolten Wong. Both are from neighbor islands — Suzuki from Maui, Wong from Hawaii Island. Both were all-state baseball selections in high school: Suzuki made first team as a senior in 2001, Wong made first team as a junior and a senior in 2007 and 2008, winning Position Player of the Year in his senior year. Both have also been philanthropically generous; Suzuki started the Kurt Suzuki Family Foundation in 2012, and Wong raised nearly $60,000 to help families impacted by the 2018 Kilauea eruption.
And of course, both will square off against each other in this year’s National League Championships starting tomorrow, Suzuki with the Washington Nationals and Wong with the St. Louis Cardinals. But while they’ll both be playing on the same field for the same opportunity to go to the World Series, they took very different paths to get there.
After graduating from Baldwin High School, Suzuki went to the mainland to play for baseball powerhouse Cal State Fullerton, where he was a crucial member of the 2004 team that won the College World Series. He won the Johnny Bench Award as the top collegiate catcher, as well as the first ever Brooks Wallace Award as the nation’s most outstanding player. He was drafted in the second round of the 2004 MLB draft, and was named an MLB all-star in 2014.
Then there is Wong. After graduating from Kamehameha Schools Hawaii Campus, he was drafted in the 16th round of the 2008 MLB draft. Wong declined the opportunity to go pro out of high school, but he didn’t just opt to play in college; he opted to play at UH. Few blue-chip prospects from Hawaii suit up for the Rainbow Warriors in any sport, let alone prospects who had professional paychecks put in front of them. Wong was an All-American at UH, where he led the Rainbow Warriors to two WAC titles and one NCAA tournament appearance. After graduating, he was drafted in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft.
Success can rarely be reduced to a single thing. It’s multi-faceted, and can be interpreted and achieved in any number of ways. While the ultimate measure of success in baseball is a World Series title, the respective career trajectories of Suzuki and Wong prove that there’s no one way to get there.
And for the rest of us cheering from and for Hawaii? At least we can be assured that no matter who wins, the islands will still be represented in the World Series.
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