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Kolten Wong: In search of wins and precious metal

Kolten Wong says bunting the ball is one of the ways he knows he can get on base. [Lou Countryman photo]

Now that Kolten Wong is golden, he has set his sights on another precious metal. 

Wong secured his first Gold Glove for his defensive play at second base for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019. Winning the Gold Glove is something he has long wanted to achieve.

“You saw the hard work finally come to the surface,” Wong said. “This has been a goal of mine since I broke into the league. Now, to finally get an award for all the hard work builds more fire in me to go out and win it again. A lot of people doubted my defense. So, this is pretty cool.”

What’s next? 

“Silver Slugger,” Wong said. “Hopefully, one day I’ll get there.”

The Silver Slugger is awarded annually to the best offensive player at each position.

He has become a better hitter, so it’s not a far-fetched idea for Wong.

He established himself as an elite defensive second baseman in 2018. Then, came the Gold Glove. He coupled that award with a .285/.361/.423 batting line that eventually moved him toward the top of the Cardinals lineup. 

“I won’t try and do too much this season. I know what my game is,” Wong said. “I have a feel for what makes me consistent on a daily basis. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to go out there and hit home runs. We’ve got guys for that. My job is to play the game I know how to play on both sides of the field and get on base for those guys.”

Wong has a lot to play for in 2020. At age 29, he is entering the final guaranteed year of the five-year, $25.5 million extension he signed during spring training 2016. The Cardinals have control of Wong’s rights for 2021 with a $12.5 million option. Then, free agency may loom if he does not work out a new deal. 

Wong hit .285 last season. He led the team with his .361 on-base percentage. Wong also led the team with his 4.7 WAR [wins above replacement], which analyzes a player’s total contributions to their team. 

Wong had a resurgence in his game last year after playing himself into a part-time option over the previous three seasons. He got to play every day and it produced a career-best year in 2019. He hit .285/.361/.423. He was moved from hitting eighth to hitting second in the second half and continued to produce.

“Just understanding that I didn’t need to go out there and try to do too much, me playing my game and bunting, and hitting the ball to the left side and doing what [I had] to do to get our team in situations to score,” Wong said of 2019. “That’s my game, and the defense is me. I think that’s where it started to carry over, when I stopped trying to be that hero, started trying to contribute to the team. That’s when my hitting had the uptick it had.”

Wong credits Cardinals Manager Mike Shildt for his overall improvement.

“I’ve got a guy who’s had my back since 2012,” Wong said about Shildt. “He’s been a believer in me since then. He’d always tell me I was a good player. To have a guy like that on your side for once is good.”

Wong noted that he had to take a good look at himself. 

“I had almost a self talk with myself,” Wong said. “Do I want to be a big leaguer? Do I want to stay in this league for a long time? What will make me the most successful?”

He figured it out. 

“I can’t bank on hitting home runs. I know I can put the bat on the ball,” Wong said. “I know I can use my speed. I know I can bunt. I can outsmart these guys. I can use this to my advantage. I can get on base and try to wreak some havoc.” 

Wong also grew up.

“I’m not a young kid anymore,” Wong said. “I’m staying on my nutrition. Staying on my flexibility and working out even if I’m tired. I’m doing the things I need to do. Being agile and explosive is my game. That’s me. Hitting home runs isn’t me anymore.

“I just want to win. Whatever it takes,” Wong said. “Winning the World Series is super important to me. Doing the little things and getting my team on the board is all that matters.” 

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