Hilo’s Kolten Wong makes his play with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Last October, Kolten Wong stepped up to the plate in game two of the National League Championship series. It was the bottom of the ninth, and the St. Louis Cardinals were tied with the San Francisco Giants. Wong was the team’s last hope. And then, like a scene from a movie, Wong hit a walk-off solo home run. The crowd, the Cardinals and Wong himself went absolutely hysterical with excitement.
The Hilo native had just entered the major leagues a year prior, having been drafted by the Cardinals in 2011. He is one of only three University of HawaiÊ»i Rainbows ever to be drafted in the first round. Local news station KITV4 captured the moment Wong heard the news of his selection. Everyone gathered there was visibly overcome with emotion, with Wong barely able to make it through a sentence.
“Getting drafted in the first round by the Cardinals is something I’ll never forget,” Wong recalls. “Watching the TV and hearing my name announced, and having my family and friends with me, is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
He was selected 22nd out of the eventual 1,530 players drafted that season. Only 20 years old at the time, and now only a few years older, Wong is well aware that his is no ordinary story.
“Getting up to the majors as fast as I did was pretty incredible,” he says. “I’ve heard and played with guys who played 10-plus years in the minors without getting a chance, so for me, it was really special.”
It’s a future he saw for himself ever since watching his first big league game. It was a Los Angeles Angels game, and Wong says he knew it was what he wanted from the moment he walked into the stadium and saw the crowd.
“From there, I knew I wanted to be a professional baseball player,” he says.
Wong credits his success entirely to his parents: his father, for teaching him the game, and his mother, for ensuring he maintained schoolwork and stayed out of trouble.
“They both were a big reason why I am where I am,” he says.
For now, Wong is focused on establishing himself in the majors—a task he says has been his biggest challenge as a professional player.
“You’re playing against the best players in the world and trying to succeed, so that’s definitely tough,” Wong states. “I’m just hoping to stay healthy and be able to play a full season without any drawbacks.”
Despite his busy schedule on the mainland, Wong makes it back to HawaiÊ»i every year.
“I can never not come back. HawaiÊ»i is home.”