VIERA, Fla. -- On this date a year ago, the Cardinals competed in an otherwise ordinary Spring Training game at the Mets' complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., However, it was hardly characterized as such by second baseman Kolten Wong, whose spring trajectory shifted significantly on that date.
With a three-hit, two-RBI performance on that particular Friday, Wong snapped an 0-for-10 Grapefruit League start and granted himself permission to relax. The self-induced pressure that had gotten in his way, led to a meeting with his manager, and had been the topic of several late-night calls to his father, dissolved that afternoon. A few days later, he was dazzling teammates with flat-footed backflips, an indication of how loose he was finally allowing himself to be.
A year later, Wong looks much more like the guy he had to work so hard to become last spring. While still often unforgiving of his shortcomings, Wong came into camp intent on, this time, being relaxed from the get-go.
"I've gone about it with the focus of having fun," Wong said on Saturday. "Last year, Spring Training really wasn't that enjoyable for me. I was pressing so hard, trying to do so much to make the team. This year, fortunately, I'm slated to be the second baseman, so it's a little more relaxing and fun coming out here getting ready for the season.
"I want to have fun. Spring Training is a time to get ready for the season. You don't need to press so hard worrying about performance. It's definitely a different feeling this time."
His standing on the club has changed over the last 12 months. He endured an up-and-down regular season before breaking out with a 7-for-29 postseason that featured five extra-base hits, including a walk-off home run in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
Having that sort of success on the grandest of stages, Wong said, "played 100 percent into my confidence level coming into Spring Training. I finally know that I belong here. I know that I can play here."
Wong has opened this Grapefruit League season 0-for-5, though it's not eating at him this time. He said there's still progress to make on the timing of his swing and the leg kick that accompanies it. And once the hits start to fall, look for Wong to be aggressive on the basepaths. Testing his leads and stolen-base jumps is another point of emphasis for him this spring.
All the while, he'll be having fun.
"The confidence is there," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think he has taken away some of the doubt about whether he can be an everyday player at this level, and he needed last year to prove that to himself. … We want them [the players] to feel free, free to go out and push. I think that's where he is right now."