Aloha! Wong, Victorino tied by roots
Mutual admiration as Hawaii natives meet on opposite sides of World Series
ST. LOUIS -- With one out in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night, Cardinals rookie Kolten Wong entered on a double-switch and took up second-base duties. The score was tied, the Red Sox had the bases loaded, and Sox right fielder Shane Victorino was on second. Before play resumed, Victorino congratulated Wong on his first World Series appearance.
"Hey, buddy," Victorino said. "Here it is -- this is a lifelong dream. Enjoy the moment!"
Victorino wouldn't normally make time for on-field pleasantries in such a high-pressure situation, but his bond with Wong is a special one. Both are from Hawaii, and their appearance together in this World Series marks the first time in the Fall Classic's 109 years that two natives of America's 50th state have faced off on baseball's biggest stage.
"There aren't many of us who come from Hawaii who get to play at the big league level, so we embrace each other," Victorino said. "The community is very small, so we all see each other as family."
Three pitches later, Wong made a sensational sliding play on a short-hop grounder off the bat of Daniel Nava, throwing to second for the inning's second out.
"Getting a chance to get out there and make that play was awesome," Wong said. "My first instinct was to just block it and keep it in front, because you don't want any more runs to score. Luckily, I fielded the ball cleanly and we almost got the double play."
Wong, 23, didn't show any jitters in his World Series debut; he also hit a single and stole a base. Victorino, 32, played in two prior World Series, in 2008 and '09 with the Phillies.
Victorino is from Wailuku on Maui, and Wong is from Hilo, on the Big Island. Both were multisport stars in high school, albeit a decade apart.
Victorino ran track and played football and baseball at St. Anthony High School. In his senior year, he won the state championship in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dash; his 100-meter time of 10.8 seconds is still a state record, but he's quick to point out that his is the non-wind-aided record.
"Another guy ran faster," Victorino said, "but he had help."
Victorino was offered a full scholarship from the University of Hawaii to play football and baseball -- he also held the Hawaii state record for longest field goal, at 48 yards, for about 10 years -- but he elected to pursue professional baseball when the Dodgers drafted him in the sixth round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft.
Wong played football and baseball at Kamehameha Hawaii High School. In his senior season, he hit .600 and was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 16th round, but he chose to play baseball for the University of Hawaii. Three years later, in 2011, the 5-foot-9 infielder re-entered the Draft and was selected in the first round, 22nd overall, by the Cards.
"Kolten has overcome odds his whole career," said Hawaii head coach Mike Trapasso. "The knock on him was his height, but I always say he's not small; he's just not tall. He's a strong kid, and he's used the questions about his size as motivation. He had a tremendous career at Hawaii and helped us win back-to-back [Western Athletic Conference] championships."
|"He's a strong kid, and he's used the questions about his size as motivation."|
|-- Mike Trapasso,
University of Hawaii baseball coach
Kolten's father, Kaha Wong, was a bit of a hero on the Hawaii baseball scene, having played in college at the University of Southern California and in the Minor Leagues in the Class A Advanced California League. The elder Wong, who remains active in Hawaii's baseball community, turned down the hitting-coach job at the University of Hawaii last summer to continue coaching kids.
Victorino first heard about Kolten while playing softball with his older brother and some buddies, who asked him if he had heard about Kaha's son. From then on, Victorino paid attention.
"Shane keeps tabs on the local boys and knows what they're doing, so he knew of me," Wong said. "When I got drafted, he called me instantly to congratulate me, and we've kept in touch."
The two spent time together last offseason, when Victorino's nephew and Wong's younger brother, Kean, played together in a tournament in Arizona; Kean, also an infielder, was selected by the Rays in the fourth round of this year's Draft. Victorino has sent Kolten Wong text messages throughout this postseason, and he took Wong and young Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller out for dinner in Boston the night before Game 1. The relationship is special to Wong, as Victorino was one of his childhood heroes.
"Kids in Hawaii don't have a lot of athletes to look up to, but Shane is one of the people in Hawaii who set the bar for people to chase their dreams," Wong said. "He's one of the guys we looked up to growing up, so I followed his career."
As a young boy on Maui, Victorino knew that the last Major Leaguer from his island was Tony Rego, who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1924-25, but Victorino looked up to Hawaiian big leaguers Mike Lum, Benny Agbayani and Mike Fetters. Now, kids in Hawaii look up to Victorino, and he's proud to have provided an example for Wong.
"I tease Kolten and tell him I want to pass the baton so kids in Hawaii can look up to him," Victorino said. "He said to me, 'Shane, I want to be like you. I want to do what you've done in this game.' I'm happy to hear that, and from what I've seen from him, it is going to be like that. I've seen his Minor League numbers, and I've watched him go about his business. He's going to be a good player in this league."
Wong had a tough moment in Game 4 of the Series. After entering as a pinch-runner for Allen Craig with two out in the bottom of the ninth and the Cardinals trailing, 4-2, Wong was picked off first base by Boston closer Koji Uehara, with postseason legend Carlos Beltran, representing the tying run, at the plate.
"That was unfortunate, but he's going to bounce back," Victorino said. "Kolten is a very humble, hard-working kid, and he's going to be the next Hawaiian to have a very long professional career."
No doubt the folks back home will be proud.