by ABBEY MAGNET
Photo and Sports Editor
On Jan. 18, Major League Baseball executive and UMW alumnus Jin Wong ‘97 returned to campus to talk life, career, education and all things baseball. Wong spoke in the Monroe auditorium to fellow alumni, students, faculty and staff as part of a series of events with UMW Athletics.
Wong worked for the Kansas City Royals for over two decades prior to joining the Chicago White Sox as their vice president and assistant general manager.
Before that, he studied business administration while playing as an All-American center fielder at UMW, according to UMW Magazine.
Though he did well in his business classes, Wong admitted that he was not proud of his first semester grades. Following that semester, he dedicated himself to balancing school and baseball.
Reflecting on this time, Wong expressed the importance of prioritizing academics, especially as students who play at a Division III level.
“Student-athletes are coming here because they love playing sports and love competing, but I think the odds that they will turn that sport into a professional career, as a sport on the playing field, is going to be pretty minimal,” said Wong. “So I think you have to be realistic that school probably has to take priority over that situation.”
He connected his previous collegiate struggles to his professional life as he discussed the concept of failure.
“Failure is inevitable,” he said, reflecting on his low GPA at the end of the first quarter during his freshman year. “But, I failed many times in my career and in my life. That’s not the first time and only time I failed at Mary Washington. There’s many jobs I interviewed for in baseball that I didn’t get. But I think perseverance—being able to rebound from those failures and just stay at it and stick to it—is very important.”
Wong acknowledged Larry Penwell, a business and psychology professor, as the most influential person for him during his time at UMW. Penwell was Wong’s advisor who aided and kept him grounded throughout his time at Mary Washington and after graduation, and the two still keep in contact.
In fact, it was Penwell who encouraged Wong to apply for an internship with the Atlanta Braves during his senior year. At the time, Wong had little hope of being accepted because of the internship’s 3.0 GPA requirement, but he got the job—despite not meeting all of the prerequisites.
“They originally offered me the marking internship position with the Atlanta Braves,” he said.
But luck struck twice when the candidate to whom the Braves offered the baseball operations internship turned it down.
“His wife said, ‘You can’t take a job for $6 an hour,’” said Wong. “So he pulled the ripcord and I slid into that role, and that’s the beginning of my baseball career.”
A few years later, in 2000, Wong landed a job with the Kansas City Royals as their scouting operations coordinator, according to the UMW Athletics website.
Wong emphasized how important taking risks is when it comes to careers. He took a big risk when he took a job in Kansas City, Mo.—a place he now considers home—because the city was so unfamiliar.
“Don’t be afraid to take risks because right now you’re young. You don’t have any attachments; you don’t have any responsibilities,” he said. “So do it when you can because when you get older and you start having family, spouse [and] children involved—that’s when things get complicated. But when you’re young, don’t be afraid to take risks. If there’s a job in Washington state that interests you, do it, because there’s only one way to figure it out.”
Wong has been with the Royals for 24 years, which he said is an unusually long time, considering the high turnover within the league.
Wong discussed how he was able to learn and grow from his experiences with the Royals, and he emphasized the importance of relationships during a person’s professional journey.
“I think it’s super important to build relationships with people—especially in leadership positions. Learn from them, and just be eager and open-minded,” said Wong as he described the various positive role models and mentors he’s had throughout his life.
He commented on the fact that he does not regard himself as a great networker, but that maintaining relationships and leaving a positive impression is imperative to success.
“I think the important thing is just treat people well and have integrity and accountability, and they’ll remember you for that,” he said.
Fellow alumnus, Chris Turner ‘97 expressed how it felt to come back to campus and reconnect with old classmates.
“It feels like coming home,” he said.
Junior business administration and sports management double major Jakob Robinette enjoyed the event and felt that it was a great way to learn about the business administration side of sports.
Robinette had previously been in contact with Wong to discuss potential career opportunities and get advice from a professional.
“I had connected with him freshman year, and he was giving me advice on how to get into the sports industry and just general information about it that’s not really known to the public,” he said.
When Robinette heard that Wong was coming to campus, he chose to attend Wong’s speech to reconnect. He spoke on his impressions of the event.
“I thought that it was a good insight to the sports management business, and it helps people understand what really goes on,” said Robinette.