Gold Glove second baseman.
Spark plug at the top of the lineup.
Spreader of tolerance.
Kolten Wong is trying to fill all three roles these days for the Milwaukee Brewers, and not necessarily in that order.
Hilo’s Wong exhorted the virtues of acceptance and harmony over the weekend as one of MLB Network’s guests as it celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Above all, he preached a singular message: “Make it a cool thing to love everybody.”
Amid an alarming spike in hate crimes against members of Asian American community on the mainland, Wong said he and teammates Keston Hiura, who has a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, and Christian Yelich, who has Japanese heritage, have had conversations about how they can impact people.
“It’s a time in the world where it’s not good,” Wong said. “Hopefully, we can continue to bring light to the situation, to show people that love is love, hate is hate. Let’s be on one side and love each other.”
Appearing on an MLB Radio roundtable along with fellow Hawaii major leaguers Kurt Suzuki (Maui) and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (Oahu), Wong said he didn’t necessarily have a favorite major leaguer growing up with whom he could relate. At least not one whom looked like he did.
“It was like, ‘I hope I can be like that guy, I’m going to kind of mimic what he does, and we’ll see what happens,” ’ he said.
What happened, of course, is this: during a standout career at Kamehameha, the University of Hawaii and eight-plus seasons with the Cardinals and Brewers, the 5-foot-7 Wong has transformed himself into the model player that every youngster in Hawaii can realistically try and emulate.
That’s not a responsibility that he takes lightly.
“Growing up through the ranks, I wanted to be an example of what kids in Hawaii or Asian American kids can look up to and be like, ‘Look at that guy, he’s got nothing more than I do, but he’s doing it.” ‘ he said. “That’s kind of been the thing that keeps me going every single day and that’s constantly driving me to be the best that I can be.
“I’m setting an example that you don’t need to be the biggest or the fastest or the strongest, you just have to have the will.”
Above strength, size or speed, Wong extolled two intangibles.
“We just have that grit, that way of playing, because when you play in the islands, man, that’s all you can bring,” he said. “That grit, that confidence.”
Wong’s skills at the plate can be traced back to his father, Kaha, a renowned local hitting coach. Kolten told MLB Network that he learned valuable life lessons at a young age from his late mother, Keala.
Sometimes they came the hard way.
“My mom was always about respect,” he said. “I grew up in an old school family home, and if you didn’t have respect, you kind of got the back hand, and mom wasn’t afraid to give me one.
“It was about respecting mom, respecting elders and doing things the right way, to bring pride to your name. She made sure I had that no matter how big I was getting. It was always about being respectful.”
Wong’s wife, Alyssa, tweeted a link to MLB Network’s interview, writing: “Love my Hawaiian Chinese Portuguese Filipino husband.”
To watch Wong’s interview, visit www.mlb.com/network