PAWTUCKET — He may be a stranger to the Red Sox organization and to the confines of McCoy Stadium, the home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, but Connor Wong is no stranger to New England.
He played with Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League in 2015, then moved to Bourne for the 2016 summer collegiate baseball season.
Now Wong is under the influence of two other staples of New England baseball lore — Jason Varitek and Rich Gedman, the catching consultants with the Boston Red Sox.
Wong became a member of the Red Sox organization in the Mookie Betts trade with the Dodgers last offseason, coming from Los Angeles with Jeter Downs — both being among the five non-roster invitees to the club’s spring training.
Wong played at Double-A Tulsa last season, batting .349 with a .604 slugging rate, 24 home runs and 82 RBI in 111 games.
“At first, I was shocked, I didn’t know what to expect, your world gets flipped upside down and you don’t know what’s on the other side,” Wong said of moving from a West Coast franchise to the East Coast, and going from the National League to the American League.
“I think change has been good for me, getting out my comfort zone and having to learn new guys — just building my character a little more,” he added. “Also going from different coaching staffs, it’s more information that I can have and I can pick and choose and go from there.”
According to Red Sox’ Chief of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom, Wong was not just a throw-in from the Dodgers. He can also play shortstop, second and third base.
“He’s always had a very good offensive approach,” Bloom told MLB.com. “He has made a lot of strides offensively, he has come into some power.
“He’s a really good athlete behind the plate, so good that he’s played the infield – those guys are hard to find,” Bloom added. “A lot of times, when you have really good athletes behind the plate, they can sometimes exceed what you expect of them. So far, he’s progressed really well.”
The 24-year-old Wong was a third-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2017 out of the University of Houston. At Houston, Wong hit a deceiving .280, but had 205 hits in 184 games played during his collegiate career with 98 walks while smacking 23 home runs and driving in 104 runs.
Wong is one of three catchers on Boston’s taxi squad at McCoy with Jhony Pereda and Jett Bandy, working with 16 pitchers assigned to the PawSox facility.
“I try to be energetic, be a team guy, do what I can to help the team win,” Wong said.
Wong was with the Red Sox’ summer camp before the roster was reduced to 30 players for Boston and the remainder sent to McCoy Stadium for grooming.
“The more that you can catch those guys and get comfortable with their stuff and get a feel for how pitchers play off of each other,” Wong said. “Just learn personalities. The more time that you can spend with any of your pitchers, the better.”
Wong relished his relationship with Varitek, learning his craft from a master.
“Just communication, how I feel or with Geddie (Rich Gedman) and see if they can help me in any way,” Wong said. “They’re guys have been around a long time, you can pick their brain about anything, the willingness to communicate, to ask questions and be willing to learn and grow is what I’m trying to do.”
“Obviously these are different times, but I get to come out here every day and work with these guys,” Wong said of his development and learning the tendencies of a new fleet of pitchers. “I can’t complain about anything.
Wong has been quarantining himself in his hotel room, abiding by health and safety regulations passed along by Massachusetts, MLB and the Red Sox.
“This thing (coronavirus) is real and it’s scary, “ Wong said. “I’m glad that this is being taken seriously up here (in New England and the Northeast),” relating to the woes of the Miami Marlins and the pandemic growth rate daily in other parts of the U.S. “I know you hear a lot of things about Florida, people are doing whatever – everyone here in the Northeast is about wearing a mask and being socially distant.
“It’s not a big deal, it’s worth doing with and we get to play the game.”
Except Wong wears a catcher’s mask at McCoy Stadium.