SALEM, Ore. -- He has a passion for baseball, a willingness to travel and Chinese ancestry.
Wong reports to training camp Feb. 22 in Nagashima, Japan in preparation for first-round pool play March 7-11 in Tokyo.
Honored to play in WBC
So how did the former Sprague High School and Oregon State standout end up on China’s roster in the WBC?
Wong is eligible to play for China because his great grandfather, Sar On Wong, was born in China.
“It’s just a huge honor to be representing my family and my ancestors,” said Wong, 28, who spends part of every off-season in his hometown of Salem. “I’m looking forward to competing against the best players in the world.”
The 16 WBC teams are divided into four, four-team pools. The winners and runners-up in each pool advance to the second round in Tokyo and San Diego, March 12-19, followed by the semifinals and championship game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, March 20-22.
For Wong, a free agent infielder who has spent his entire eight-year professional career in the Colorado Rockies’ organization, it’s an opportunity to showcase his talent.
Free agent exploring opportunities
Because Wong is a free agent, he’s free to pursue professional baseball opportunities in the United States and abroad. He noted there are Asian leagues in Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
“It’s definitely something I would be interested in,” Wong said. “If you head over there and have a good tournament, there might be some interest from teams over there and an opportunity to go over there and play.”
Wong expects to play shortstop for China, but he’s played every infield position during his professional career. He was with the Albuquerque Isotopes of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League last season.
The fourth WBC will feature 63 former Major League All-Stars, including well-known players like Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles, United States) Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers, Venezuela), Robinson Cano (Seattle Mariners, Dominican Republic) and Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals, Puerto Rico).
Japan won the first two Classics, with the Dominican Republic prevailing most recently in 2013.
“It’s probably the highest level of competition that I’ve played in my career,” said Wong, a second baseman on OSU’s 2007 College World Series championship team.
Wong has been a standout fielder throughout his career, and OSU baseball coach Pat Casey called him “as polished (defensively) as any infielder that’s ever come into our program.”
Defense came naturally to Wong. He’s the son of a baseball man – David Wong was the former head coach at Willamette University and an assistant coach for two of the three seasons Joey played at OSU – and grew up around the game.
“This is a great opportunity,” said David Wong, a baseball instructor who works with Joey in the off-season. “This World Baseball Classic’s a big deal. It’s like the Olympics.”
What has likely prevented Wong from getting a call up to “The Show” thus far is hitting. He has a career batting average of .241 with 14 homers, primarily as a utility infielder.
Wong, who played in the Australian Baseball League this winter, is not overly concerned about his free-agent status. Pitchers and catchers report for spring training in Arizona and Florida this week.
“It’s more exciting than nerve-wracking for me,” Wong said. “It’s fun to know I have this opportunity coming up to play in the Classic, but I also don’t have any limits as far as if I get an offer from anywhere, I could go there.”
If nothing materializes during or after the WBC, Independent Leagues are an option. But Wong remains optimistic that he will land a job for the 2017 season and beyond.
When his playing days end, Wong hopes to become a head baseball coach at the high school level, or pursue a position as an assistant coach in professional baseball.
For now, the focus remains on his playing career.
“You hear it a lot in sports, you’ve gotta control what you can control,” Wong said. “For me, I’ve always been a more productive player when I’ve been in a positive frame of mind so I try to stay that way.”
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, or Twitter.com/ghorowitz
Height/weight: 5-10, 185
2016 season: Hit .233 with one homer and 28 RBI in 91 games for the Albuquerque Isotopes of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League
Career stats: In 645 professional games over eight minor league seasons, hitting .241 with 14 homers, 15 triples, 103 doubles and 211 RBI.
High school: Sprague
College: Oregon State
Major League Baseball Draft: Round 24 (2009, Colorado Rockies)
Of note: Played three seasons at OSU and was on the Beavers’ 2007 national championship team. … Named to the all-College World Series team in ’07. … During the 2004-05 school year at Sprague, played quarterback for the Olympians' state championship football team and shortstop on the state championship baseball team.
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