A really great man passed away on Friday due to a massive heart attack. I was fortunate enough to get to know Joe Wong a little when I coached his son, John, in baseball on several different teams over the years.
Before I ever met Joe, I knew he was an exceptional man and father just from meeting his son for the first time. John is one of those kids that, as a coach, you dream about having on your team. He was at the top of my draft list every season, but all too often he was snatched up ahead of me by another coach who knew his value like I did.
In terms of talent, by definition, ninety percent of baseball players aren’t in the top ten percent. (I did that math all by myself.) I wasn’t trying to draft John every year because he was a top ten percenter, talent-wise. He was always right there with my sons, solidly in the middle of the ninety percent.
He is, however, in the top one percent of athletes as far as being a teammate. John simply makes the team better just by being there. He is a good player, but his biggest value to the team is his ability to positively affect morale.
John just makes you happy. He makes you want to have fun. He is always smiling. He makes you want to race each other. He makes you want to compete, for the fun of it. He is always happy to be there. He makes you want to win together. He always brought gum. He just makes the team better.
John contributed standardly to the success of our teams on the field, but he contributed immeasurably in the dugout. I knew John got those attributes from his parents, and it was very easy to see those same qualities in Joe whenever you spoke with him. It became abundantly clear what a powerful influence Joe was, however, when I read a tweet about his passing from a professional basketball player.
Joe was a hard-working man, and he held down more than one job to take care of his wonderful family. Among other things, he was on the security team at the Golden 1 Center, where the Sacramento Kings play.
Kings center and power forward Harry Giles III tweeted his reaction the other day to the news of Joe’s death.
My heart is heavy! Joe Wong! I’ll never forget you my man! You were one of the nicest people I’ve ever met! Your attitude never changed! You showed me how to show up every day for work and regardless of what’s going on... always be happy! On some of my worst games you were always so uplifting and positive! Going to miss you having mango Hi-Chews and green Jolly Ranchers for me when I came in G1C or asking if my mom was coming to the game. Wish I could do it all one more time and hug you. Going to miss you so much. Thank you for everything!
Is it any wonder that John became the stellar teammate he is with a dad like Joe? I mean, how amazing is that statement from Giles?
Harry Giles wasn’t coached by Joe. Joe wasn’t one of his teammates. He wasn’t one of his trainers. Joe never got the chance to address the team and talk with them about their mental performance.
The Kings players only saw Joe in passing when they entered and exited the arena, but his positive demeanor and attitude about life had such a profound impact on them that a professional athlete credits Joe with teaching him how to show up to his own job with joy, what an authentically positive attitude can do, how to bounce back from disappointments, and what truly caring about others looks like.
Some of the highest paid coaches in the NBA don’t have the ability to positively impact their players the way the man guarding the door was able to impact Harry Giles, and very likely, the majority of the rest of the Kings players and staff as well.
Joe knew, probably better than anyone I’ve ever known, that being a teammate means so much more than what you do during a game, and that you can be an invaluable asset to the team without ever having set foot between the lines.
I have no doubt that John will follow in his dad’s footsteps and continue to be that beacon of light for others to look toward, and I’m looking forward to seeing it happen.
I only wish Joe could have been around a little longer to model it some more for his kids, and for the rest of us.
Rest in peace, Joe. You were the real deal. Thanks for showing us the way.
Copyright © 2020 Marc Schmatjen
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