After 645 minor league baseball games during eight seasons, Joey Wong remains one step away from The Show.
Wong, who recently completed his 2016 season as a middle infielder with the Albuquerque Isotopes of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, continues to press on in hopes of reaching the major leagues.
The clock may be ticking on his chances, but the Sprague High School graduate is still "living the dream."
"I play baseball because I love it," said Wong, 28, who spends at least part of every off-season in Salem.
“"I wouldn’t want to do anything else at this point in my life, so I’m just gonna keep playing until my body’s not physically able to or I run out of teams that wanna sign me," Wong said.
After his junior year at Oregon State – Wong played second base on the 2007 national championship team – he was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 24th round of the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft and signed for $30,000, forgoing his senior year.
Wong, who has been part of the Rockies’ organization his entire professional career, will become a free agent after the World Series. He could re-sign with the Rockies before then, but it might be time for a change.
"I get along with the front office, but obviously it’s one of those things where I’ve been with them my entire career and I still haven’t reached the big leagues," Wong said. "My biggest interest is being in a situation where I have that opportunity."
A career batting average of .241 with limited power is a strike against him.
But this much is certain: Wong’s glove is not holding him back.
"He’d be an advanced major league fielder if you put him in the big leagues for a full season," said Wong’s agent, Mike Bonanno of Jackson Management Group. "Watching him on a daily basis, I’m sure managers would say the same thing."
During the 2007 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, Wong and shortstop Darwin Barney combined on a spectacular double play against Cal State Fullerton that was captured in a poster-sized photo by the Omaha World-Herald.
Wong hit .340 in the 2007 NCAA tournament and played a key role in the Beavers repeating as national champions.
"He started as a freshman for us alongside Barney," OSU coach Pat Casey said. "Defensively, he was as polished as any infielder that’s ever come into our program."
Wong has played primarily shortstop and second base in his professional career, but he’s also spent time at third and first. That versatility makes him a valuable commodity.
But when major league rosters expanded to 40 players in September, Wong did not receive the call-up for which he was hoping.
"At the end of the season this year I was thinking that I had a pretty good shot of going up," Wong said. "It didn’t work out obviously. They took a younger infielder who’s a pretty good prospect with the Rockies."
Wong is no longer a young prospect. Still, he has much to offer or he wouldn’t have lasted for eight minor league seasons.
Wong may never be a prolific hitter, but when given the chance to play on a regular basis, he has been productive. In 2011 playing a full season for Single-A Asheville (North Carolina) in the South Atlantic League, Wong hit .286 with 20 doubles, six homers and 55 RBI.
"The thing about Joey is when he’s done playing, I think he’s gonna be satisfied that he gave it everything he had," Casey said. "I don’t think he’ll have any second thoughts."
It has been a steady progression up the minor league ladder for Wong, and long bus trips that "were brutal" during his days in Class A ball are in the rearview mirror.
But while some former minor league teammates are making millions of dollars in the major leagues, Wong waits for an opportunity that may never materialize. He earned about $5,000 a month this season playing for the Isotopes.
"The only way you’re gonna make any significant money in baseball is if you sign for a lot of money out of high school or college, or you reach the big leagues," Wong said.
When his playing days end, Wong plans to become a baseball coach, anywhere from the high school to professional level.
He acknowledges that waiting for at least a cup of coffee in The Show is "definitely frustrating at times," but Wong’s passion for the game, optimistic nature and faith keep him grounded.
"I’m a believer in the good Lord above. I’ve gotta believe I’m doing what He wants me to do and it’s just not my time yet," Wong said. "If I hang around and make it then it would make one heck of a story."
By Gary Horowitz, Statesman Journal (9-29-16) Original Article