(Left) Alton’s Steven Nguyen winds up for a pitch vs. Jersey on March 20 at Alton High School. The senior is a quiet leader for the Redbirds. (Right) Junior Simon Nguyen of the Redbirds takes an at-bat vs. the Jersey Panthers on March 20 at AHS. He joins his brother Steven this year in his first varsity season. The first-generation Vietnamese-Americans offer much poise and patience for the Birds.
Brothers Steven and Simon Nguyen are a special pair, according to Alton baseball head coach Todd Haug.
Steven, a senior, and Simon, a junior, have a poised and patient approach to the game and have been quality members of the Redbird baseball program. Steven is in his fourth year at the varsity level, while Simon is starting his first year at varsity.
“Both of them are tremendously important to the program,” Haug said. “They’re tremendous competitors, but in the day and age of having lots of rah rah and all the different ways to get your voice out there, they are truly examples of doing your talking with your arms, your legs and your bats. It’s a quiet confidence they have and it’s an example for all of us.”
The brothers credit much of that work ethic to their parents and their heritage. Steven and Simon are first-generation Americans; their parents — Sam and Lonnie — grew up in Ho Chi Minh City in South Vietnam before coming to the United States. They own and run Lonnie’s Nail Spa in Alton.
Steven said that’s where his parents learned to keep their heads down and work hard and it has rubbed off on him and his brother.
“The majority of the people over there are very poor and they struggle,” Steven said. “Their mentality is work hard and create a better life for themselves.
“When my parents came over here, they didn’t have anything actually, so they had to work hard and not give up and that kind of mentality they pushed into our minds. It’s just never stop working and try your hardest and good things will happen.”
Simon echoed the same sentiment as his brother.
“Our parents work hard and don’t give up and they passed that along to the next generation with us,” he said.
Haug recalled a specific example when Steven took that mentality of keeping his nose to the grindstone and not complaining to the next level.
“We’ve seen Steven over the course of 4 years at the varsity level have numerous shoulder dislocations, and he’s one of the toughest ball players I’ve ever had. He just continues to go about his business,” Haug said.
“I remember him dislocating it in Granite City a while back and their trainer couldn’t put it back in, and he said literally with his shoulder it was the worst dislocation he’d ever seen. With his shoulder almost in his stomach area, Steven said nothing. He went about his business, they went to the hospital and got it put back in place.”
That mindset also stems from Steven and Simon’s love of baseball. They agreed it’s their favorite sport. The brothers also play soccer, which is the sport of choice in Vietnam, but baseball is their passion.
“It happened when I was really young,” Steven said. “Our dad introduced us to baseball and soccer and I fell in love with (baseball) from my first game when I was 4. It’s something I love.
“They mainly play soccer over (in Vietnam), so baseball is different for my dad for sure. He just gave me an opportunity and I fell in love with the game.”
And now Steven and Simon are back together again on the field enjoying their time. Steven is hot, entering the week with a .400 batting average and a team-best 2 homers and 14 RBIs. He’s the starting third baseman for the Birds and also dabbling in some pitching. He’s 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA with a pair of starts.
Simon is hitting .263 with 5 RBIs and has been playing mainly right field and a little at designated hitter. He’s also made one appearance on the mound this season.
Haug expects a lot from them both with their versatility. Steven has played second base, shortstop and third base during his four years.
“They’re versatile, both of them can hit anywhere in the lineup,” Haug said.
“Simon is limited with being left-handed, but he’s pitched for us in a relief role and will continue to do so. He’s played a little first base and he can go get it in the corner outfield spots. I don’t think he’s going to play over (Mike) Hampton in center, but he can play both corner spots.”
Haug is hoping at some point he can use a little of the cultural differences to his advantage with the Nguyen brothers. He’s got some ideas.
“From a cultural standpoint it’s not real different,” Haug said. “We’ll joke with them about some things and when we go out to eat they always seem to gravitate toward stereotypical things.
“One thing we’re waiting on now that they’re playing at the same time is a situation where we can put a pickoff on in Vietnamese or something like that.”
Steven and Simon just feel like typical Midwestern teenage boys. Sure, they’re a little more reserved, but there aren’t many differences when they hang out with their teammates, except maybe the food.
“We eat rice, fried fish or steamed fish,” Simon said. “Chicken, different meats and vegetables.”
Steven added, “Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) is really good. We eat a lot of that, which is really nice.”
Their main focus is just competing for the Redbirds and being the best baseball players they can be. Both had RBIs in a big 7-6 come-from-behind win over Civic Memorial on March 25, including Steven’s inside-the-park homer in the sixth that put Alton up for good and push the Birds to 8-0 on the season.
“It’s just great to play with my brother again,” Simon said. “I just feel blessed. It’s very different from JV, but I feel I’m adjusting pretty nicely.”
Steven added, “A state title would be nice, but the main focus is just enjoying the time with everyone and having fun. It’s about having a good season. It’s the last year, so you’ve got to make it a good one.”
They have earned the full respect and trust of their coach, too. Haug knows he’s got something special in the brothers.
“The one common thread they have is they’re very passionate about this game and very competitive,” Haug said. “I’d trust them with my life out here. They’d go to battle for us.”