Feb. 17, 2011

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Wong elevates Hawaii to national prominence

By Allen Kha



Hawaii second baseman and preseason All-American Kolten Wong (left) may have been drafted in the 16th round of the 2008 Major League Draft by the Minnesota Twins and developed into one of the best hitters in college baseball, but he still was much of a hidden gem nationally for the past two seasons.


Compared to the likes of Rice’s Anthony Rendon and other national hitting stars, Wong’s accomplishments in his college career – a .350 career batting average, 18 home runs, 92 RBI and 30 stolen bases among many other feats – have gone somewhat unnoticed outside the Aloha State and the WAC.


That is, until he earned MVP honors for last summer’s Cape Cod league after hitting .341 with 22 stolen bases. His average was third-best in the Cape, and he finished second with a .426 on-base average and fourth in slugging at .462.


“Being able to prove myself in Cape Cod was tremendous for my confidence, knowing that I can play against some of the best pitchers in college baseball, that level of competition and the wood bat,” Wong said.


“I haven’t really seen Rendon play, but I know he is really good. At the same time, I know I can definitely be one of the best college baseball players in the nation. It’s a personal challenge, something that drives me to improve every day.”


Wong’s coach Mike Trapasso hasn’t seen Rendon play either but knows that his team’s spark plug deserves to be known as one of the best players in college baseball.


“Kolten has a tremendous work ethic and is looking to become better,” Trapasso said. “He’s a proven hitter. Being the MVP of the Cape Cod league is a tremendous honor. He can hit, he can get on base, and that’s what is propelling him to start this season with national recognition.


“Seeing the teams we play on a yearly basis, Kolten can hit against anyone that we play. He’s a special talent and a great person to watch. He brings so much energy and is a delight to play and coach.”


For Wong, the national notoriety is a testament to his hard work and his career coming full circle. After ending last year with a promising showing in the Tempe Regional, where his Rainbows beat San Diego twice to advance to the final game of the regional, he wants to focus on what his team can accomplish this season.


“Outside of being drafted, I didn’t really get any [college] offers other than Hawaii coming out of high school,” Wong said. “But at the same time, Hawaii was really my only college choice, being from here and playing at home.


“There are no professional sports teams here, so [in Hawaii] it’s all about our sports teams and everyone follows us. We have great facilities and support and playing at home is a great privilege.”


Wong and Trapasso know the Rainbows face challenges in their out-of-conference and WAC schedules. Hawaii opens the season with home series against No. 10 Oregon and No. 7 Texas and faces challenges from conference contenders Fresno State, Nevada, and a New Mexico State team that Trapasso described as “tremendously good on offense.”


“Even though we play in a conference that’s not a high-RPI conference, the WAC is still really competitive, and we have to play well to be competitive,” Trapasso said. “We also play the Oregon’s and Texas’s of the world to boost our RPI, and some Big West teams like Cal State Fullerton.


“I relish these games particularly because I’ll get to coach opposite of some of the best coaches in college baseball, in [George] Horton and [Augie] Garrido. It’s going to be a great experience for both me and my team and hopefully we’ll start our season well.”


Wong, meanwhile, savors the opportunity to face the Ducks’ daunted pitching staff and the Longhorns’ Taylor Jungmann.


“I relish challenges,” Wong said. “I want to play against the best players in the nation, and I work hard so I can become the best player I can be.


“I’m focusing one game at a time, because you can’t look into the hype without hurting your team. I’m focused on helping our team accomplish its goals.”


(photos courtesy of Hawaii Athletics)