18 Sep On Sleeves & Swagger with Kolten Wong
By: Kelly Wallace
On May 3rd, Mount Kīlauea began to erupt. It was the beginning of a series of volcanic explosions that only stopped a few weeks ago in mid-August. The official number of homes destroyed by both the volcano and the accompanying earthquakes stood at 700 and rising as of July 9th. Kolten Wong lived only 20 minutes from the disaster area, and felt like he had to help. In addition to raising $78,906 on behalf of Habitat for Humanity Hawai’i Island, he began to wear a compression sleeve with the Kanaka Maoli flag on it. On May 25th, MLB told Wong to stop wearing it, or he’d face a hefty fine.
So, tell me a little bit about the Hawaiian sleeve.
Kolten Wong: I was wearing that sleeve to represent Hawaii after everything that happened with the eruption, just trying to bring awareness. When I was trying to find out about Hawaii when it first happened, I felt like social media was doing a bad job. The news is doing a bad job of explaining that this thing is still happening. We lost 500 plus homes on The Big Island and the media really has not done a good job covering that. It lit a fire under me to do something about it. So that’s when I decided I would wear this sleeve to represent that.
The eruption began in early May, during the season, so I assume you haven’t been home since. Is your family nearby?
KW: I have not been home, my family is probably around 25 miles away from that area. It just means so much because we all grew up going down there. We all grew up swimming and fishing there. That was the place everybody growing up on The Big Island knew about.
MLB told you to stop wearing it, but I would imagine you don’t agree with their decision.
KW: I think you need to give players the opportunity to show the pride that they have. For a lot of us, to make it to this stage is really not something that we expected. Growing up in small towns, especially for some of these guys, it’s an opportunity to get away and to better your life. To get to this level is something all of us dreamt about and but never really knew if it was going to come true or not.
So, I think Major League Baseball needs to do a better job of allowing us to just be able to show our personality more. Kids love it and you know, that’s what it’s about. It’s about encouraging the next generation to play baseball.
A lot of young people don’t necessarily think baseball is the most exciting sport.
KW: Absolutely, I agree. I feel like kids nowadays look at baseball like it’s boring. Kids nowadays want to see swag and the fact that we’re not allowed to use different colors or promote where we’re from…I feel like that takes a lot of swag away from the players. You can have fun and wear crazy stuff as long as you play the game the right way.
Who are some of the players with the most swag right now?
KW: Javy Báez is one of them. He does a really good job of carrying himself with confidence and whatnot. Yadi [Molina], absolutely. He’s a catcher with a lot of swag. He’s rocking the Jordan gear, he just carries himself a certain way. There’s a couple other guys, I’d say majority of the guys who carry themselves that way are the Latino players because of who they are and how they play the game. They enjoy playing the game and play with a lot of passion and there’s a lot of confidence in that.
When you say “play the game the right way”, I think a lot of people would say playing with swagger isn’t doing that.
KW: I understand where they’re coming from, but people need to realize that times change. The game is evolving, people are evolving, that’s just how it goes. I don’t think that playing with a little confidence or having a little flag here and there or wearing colored shoes should affect how we play the game.
Your goal was to bring attention to what was going on in Hawaii, what would you want people to know?
KW: People need to realize how many families are losing their homes. In the media, they’ll show pictures of the lava but they don’t show the lava burning down all these houses. There are a lot of people who are homeless now. There are so many people on The Big Island who are struggling.
Does it ever make it hard to play when you have something heavy like that on your mind?
KW: A little bit. I know this is my job and I take it seriously. Not a lot of things affect me like that, but obviously this being my home and affecting the people that I know…it’s definitely tough. You know you want to be there, you want to help these people to try and do whatever you can to make it a little easier on them. So it’s been tough, but that’s no excuse. This has been one of the years for me where it’s been a little tougher.
But the Cardinals have a totally new look after the trade deadline.
KW: Absolutely. I think what we did at the trade deadline was pretty remarkable if you look at you know our team now. The youth that we brought up and how they’ve impacted us has been pretty impressive. These kids have been stepping up in a big way and it shows you that the Cardinals have a lot to be excited about for years to come. Even this year, we’re playing some really good baseball and we’re in the Wild Card chase now. We’re definitely not out. It’s just a matter of if we can get it hot at the right time.
The NL Central is one of the only divisions that’s truly up in the air right now.
KW: Yeah, exactly. It’s exciting!
When you play a guy who plays hard, you mentioned Javy Báez, do you think that pushes you to play harder too?
KW: Oh, for sure. Whenever you play with those guys, that’s the way you wanna play. At this level, we’re all the best in the world at baseball. Why not act like it? Some people might take it as disrespecting the game but in order to play well, you’ve got to have confidence.
What gets you most fired up on the field? To get a big hit or make a great play defensively?
KW: For me, it’s making a great defensive play for my pitcher. Offensively, that’s gonna come here and there. You’re going to have your days, your weeks, your months where you only kind of hit. You can always be good defensively as long as you work hard. That can be the thing that helps your team get to the next level.
What are your goals for the rest of the season?
KW: I really want to finish strong defensively and put myself in a position to be in talks for a Gold Glove. I think I’ve set myself up for that with how I’ve played this year. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been a great offensive year for me but my defense has been my niche this year. I’m trying to do whatever I can to hit and improve there too. I think that’s going to be my focus this offseason, to get back to the hitter I know I can be.
I’ll be back and ready to hit too.