By Tori Wittenbrock
ASHWAUBENON – With the 209th pick in the seventh round of the 2023 MLB Draft, seventeen year old left-handed hitter George Wolkow was selected by the Chicago White Sox, placing him one step closer to his long-time dream of playing in the majors.
This season Wolkow joined the Rockers as the youngest player on their roster after graduating from high school in just three years.
“I really just wanted to jump start my career, whether that meant pro ball or college,” said Wolkow.
Although very passionate about the game of baseball now, it took Wolkow a little bit of experimenting and time to set his sights on making it his career.
“I played a lot of sports growing up — football, baseball, basketball, even a little bit of volleyball — and my dad played football, my mom and sisters played volleyball. I used to just play any sport that was in season. I fell in love with the game of baseball at a young age and set my goals high,” said Wolkow.
It didn’t take long for Wolkow to begin to see success. After just his eighth grade year, going into high school, Wolkow was able to glean a verbal commitment to play for the University of South Carolina.
“I realized that you could play pro ball coming out of high school, so that’s when I began working towards that goal. I feel like a lot of that work came with the high expectations I set for myself. I want to be a Hall of Famer one day. Getting drafted is just the start to that process.”
A stable support system
Wolkow deserves much credit for the dedication and discipline that he has shown with regard to baseball; yet, he said that his parents are who he credits the most for his success.
“My biggest influence is my parents. My mom does everything for me, and my dad is extremely supportive as well. Being able to see them make sacrifices for me and work as hard as they can so that I can be able to chase my dreams — even when I was 12 and they spend absurd amounts of money for me to play travel ball and they got me the best development they could in the Chicagoland area — is really the biggest motivating factor for me,” said Wolkow.
“My dad really understands the mental aspect of the game and having someone who can push me to be the best version of myself and help me through difficult times since this sport can be so mentally tough is really helpful,” said Wolkow of his dad’s influence on his success.
“My mom has really taught me a lot about how to manage my money and just knowing the things I need to know off of the field to be a successful person, as well.”
Wolkow said in addition to his parents he has had a plethora of coaches that have been a great influence on his life and his career in baseball.
“Being around people that are really supportive in my circle that want to see me succeed at the best possible level has been helpful. There are times in the game when you know you might struggle and you will need resources to learn and grow, and they are always there for me.”
Outside of the physical demands of the game, Wolkow said that it is very important to him to ensure that his mental health is in a good state as well.
“I work with a mental skills coach named Jeff Becker. He helps me separate myself from the competition mentally. You can only be so great physically and it’s really the mental side that takes you to the next level.”
Having a strong support system has helped Wolkow immensely, but there have still been a few struggles that he has had to brave on his own.
“The biggest thing I have had to overcome is growing up really quickly, especially with the whole reclass process. Last year I played the summer circuit with 17 and 18 year olds at just 16. That summer going into the season playing up in the Northwoods League is really just all about me having to adapt to growing up quickly and facing adversity for the first time.
“I had to go through the transition from being the guy in the suburbs of Chicago and being good at everything to going out on the big stage with the guys who were the best from their towns as well. I struggled a little bit with the competition with the guys that were older than me and had to learn to trust the process.”
Yet, Wolkow said that playing for the Rockers has taught him a lot and has been an invaluable experience.
“Being able to play in the Northwoods League has been big for me to be able to keep my head down and establish some consistency, being able to play everyday and to learn that adversity is part of the game. Having the opportunity to come back every day to play baseball allows you to have a couple of days in a slump and come out of it even stronger.”
While playing a game nearly every day may seem overwhelming for some athletes, Wolkow said that he appreciates the opportunity it has given him to grow.
“Whether you go 0-for-4 one night or 4-for-4 one night, you’ve got to come back and do it again the next day and it’s always a new opportunity to be great.”
Staying disciplined and prioritizing his goals has afforded Wolkow a lot of amazing opportunities over the years. Despite having to make a lot of sacrifices, Wolkow said that he wouldn’t trade where he is now for anything.
“I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices in my sport. Graduating a year early, getting rid of my true senior year, missing out on prom, playing travel ball instead of having a normal summer with friends — they are all things that, to be honest, I wasn’t even worried about at the time. I’m usually in the cages on Friday and Saturday nights when people are going out, but I know that I’m trying to do a different thing than what they are trying to do.”
Wolkow said that balancing school with practice for multiple sports, focusing on his diet, recovery and prioritizing sleep have not been easy tasks, but he knows that those are the things that will set him apart from other people.
“A lot of these things are sacrifices that other people might not be willing to make,” said Wolkow.
Wolkow said that he is willing to do whatever is necessary to be able to see success in the future, even if it requires a bit of patience right now.
“I know I’m younger, but I’m really just playing a game of catch-up with the people ahead of me. There are 208 picks ahead of me that people might think are better, but it’s really just a matter of time until I do catch up. Those sacrifices that I am making are going to pay off in the end, and I really don’t even look at them as sacrifices… It’s just what I do.”
The 2023 MLB Combine was a surreal experience, according to Wolkow.
“I thought the combine was an awesome experience. Being able to meet with the teams was a really enjoyable process. I was able to tell my story and see the different teams and the different opportunities that would be available,” said Wolkow.
“It was a great opportunity for me to go out there and show that I am still trending upwards.”
Playing for the Rockers
Wolkow said that taking the leap from high school to the pros has been a difficult process, and playing with the Rockers has really helped him navigate the transition.
“Being able to come up and play here everyday up in Green Bay and going straight from high school to play in the Northwoods League and to get some experience playing on big league fields is all really just a blessing, honestly. I’ve had great opportunities, and I know there are a lot of people that would love to be in my shoes, so I try not to take anything for granted. It’s all a privilege to be here and be healthy and be able to have the experiences I’ve had that other people are out there working just as hard for.”
These decisions have not been easy for Wolkow, but he says the biggest thing for him to keep in mind is trusting the process.
“A lot of these decisions come from what I think is going to be the best for my career. Reclassing early is going to put me in a lot more uncomfortable positions at a younger age which is going to help me grow up and develop a lot faster than if I were to play high school baseball for another year. Playing up in the Northwoods League affords me those same opportunities forcing me to challenge myself,” said Wolkow.
“Whatever decisions I make, I know there is no looking back. You can’t really have those what-if thoughts or regrets. You’ve just got to trust what you choose and put your head down and work. A lot of times I just choose whatever I believe is going to be the best possible route for development for me.”
Wolkow said he is very grateful for the time he spent with the team and the experiences he gained.
“Playing with the Green Bay Rockers has really been that bridge into my career. Whether I ended up in South Carolina or pro ball, just being able to come out here for a few months and build great relationships with teammates like Cooper Kelly, AJ Anzai and Jayson Jones who really have taken me under their wing and put themselves in my shoes is great.”
Wolkow also said that having a supportive staff with coaches Bonter, Hartman and Krepline and the support of General Manager John Fanta has been very conducive to his success.
“These are all people who want to see me succeed and that’s what a great environment is — not only wanting to be the best for themselves, but wanting the best for the people around them as well, which is what I’ve felt from the Rockers.”
“Although my time with the Rockers felt fast, I know there was a lot of learning going on and whatever happens next I know my experience in Green Bay has prepared me and I’m going to miss being able to come to the field and play with a lot of these guys.”