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Kurt Suzuki returns, gives back to Maui

January 20, 2012 - Robert Collias
There were 190 youth baseball players at the Kurt Suzuki All Pono Baseball Clinic on Saturday at Maehara Stadium.

I got 12 minutes (plenty, especially with the thought that Suzuki puts into his answers) of interview time with Suzuki before he turned his attention to the kids, some of whom he paid to bring over from Oahu, Molokai and Lanai. My talk time, btw, came after he was done with a video crew from Maui High School.

No doubt about it, Suzuki is a class act and a great baseball player — a former All-American and Johnny Bench Award winner as the nation's best catcher in 2004 when he led Cal State-Fullerton to the College World Series crown. IMHO, he a major league All-Star waiting to happen for the Oakland A's — he in entering his sixth season with the A's and is entering the second year of a 4-year, $23 million contract.

Here is a link to my story that ran in Thursday's paper with photos and here is a link to more photos that ran on Sunday.

With A LOT more good stuff than we had room for in the paper, here is my complete interview with Kurt. Check it out, it is definitely worth the read:

Maui News: What is it like being able to come back here and do this for the kids?

Kurt Suzuki: “It is very gratifying, being able to be in the position I’m in, give back to the community and show the appreciation of the support that they provide for me, I think, is important. I don’t think realize how important the support is, especially being a Maui boy, a local guy, having the support of your hometown behind you 100 percent is is pretty amazing and it is a pretty surreal feeling.”

MN: What did you talk about with the Maui High School kids?

KS: “Never giving up and working hard and setting a goal and going for it, not giving up just because it gets tough. The main thing is, coming from Hawaii to the point that I am today, I have definitely had a lot of lows, there’s a lot of downs. Being able to overcome those, being able to push through, keep fighting and never giving up, I think that is the most important part.”

MN: What is it going to be like this year with Oakland?

KS: “You never like to rule anything out. You definitely have to go out there and perform. Obviously, Albert Pujols with the Angels, C.J. Wilson with the Angels, the Rangers being who they are with possibly signing Yu Darvish as well, the Mariners being a great young talented team, you still have to go out there and perform on the field and that is what I like to tell. That is what I am going to go out in spring training and say is: We may not look like the best team on paper, but we’ve got a lot of young talent, we have got a lot of energy. The bottom line is you have to go on the field and perform and whoever does that the best will win.”

MN: Do you enjoy the role of underdog?

KS: “I think you can thrive in that role or you can just fold. I think myself and the team thrives in that kind of position. I think that when you are the underdog you have got nothing to lose and you go out there and you just play as hard as you can. You perform and you do what you have to do and whatever happens, happens. You don’t have all this extra added pressure or distractions outside on you, so I think being a young team, being an underdog is pretty cool.”

MN: What does having your contract taken care of do for you (Suzuki is entering the second year of a 4-year, $23 million pact)?

KS: “Well, definitely, being able to support your family is the number one goal in life. And having that security, having that piece of mind gives you a little bit of relaxation, but at the same time you want to prove yourself. You never want to stop, you want to go out there and perform and you want to become the best player out there. And that’s my goal, I want to be the best catcher in the major leagues and I am never going to stop until I get to that point.”

MN: On your hitting the last couple years, the power numbers are up, the batting average is down a bit?

KS: “It is more just learning your swing, it is a learning experience. I know I can hit and I believe in myself that I can hit. Just going out there and not putting too much pressure on yourself and thinking you have got to get a hit instead of just going out there and letting it happen. I think that is the important part. Obviously, my numbers have struggled, but every year I come in, I work hard. My main goal is to stay healthy and be on the field, which allows me to be successful. You can’t be successful sitting on the bench because you’re hurt, so if I’m healthy I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot, so that is the most important part for me right now.”

MN: You have always been a solid defensive catcher, is that something you take a lot of pride in?

KS: “I work just as hard on defense. To me that is the job of a catcher, is to be on defense, You have to lead the pitchers, you have to guide them through the game. You are in the middle of the action, you are involved in every pitch. You have to be that type of player and I feel like I can be that type of player and that is the type of player that I want to be. As a catcher that is your number one thing, to be defense, but the funny thinig is I like to hit. I know I can hit, I love to hit, so there is a balance and you can separate the good players, the great players separate themselves. That is what I’m striving for.”

MN: What is your schedule for a typical game day?

KS: “I get to the field probably around 1 (p.m.), I will go to the video room, watch video for probably about an hour, hour and a half, and then I will go to the batting cage for about 20 minutes, 30 minutes. Then I will go meet with the pitching coach and the other catchers to do a scouting report, more scouting reports together, and then we have got to go out and stretch for batting practice. I will come in early, meet with the pitcher, the starting pitcher that day and the pitching coach to go over a game-plan for the team. Then I will go and change my clothes, get into my game clothes. I will go warm-up, go stretch in the training room, whatever I have to do, and then go do my stuff to get ready for the game. And then I will go out there, so downtime is very minimal.”

MN: Do you keep in touch with Shane Victorino (a St. Anthony grad who plays for the Philadelphia Phillies)?

KS: “I do, but it’s tough. He is on the East Coast, I am on the West Coast. Usually when he is on the West Coast, I am on the East Coast, so it’s tough, but I definitely follow him, watching ESPN or MLB Network or stuff like that. You kind of watch and you cheer him on, you cheer all the local guys on.”

MN: Do you keep in touch with Kanekoa Texeira (a former major reliever who recently signed a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds)?

KS: “This offseason, we are actually working out together. He is living down in Newport Beach and he is driving to Redondo three days a week and working out, we are working out together. He is working out with my trainer and we are trying to get him in that training program because that kid is talented. If he puts his mind to it and he strives for it . . . I tell the guys in Oakland, ‘If this guy comes free, get him because he is good.’ He has got a lot of potential.”

MN: How much does it say about Maui talent that we have you, Shane, Kanekoa and minor leaguers Derrick Saito and Dayton Alexander out there right now?

KS: “It tells you how much talent there is. The thing with being in Maui is that there are so many other distractions here with the beach and stuff like that. It’s tough. I’m not going to lie, it is tough, but guys that really put their mind to it and go for it, it shows because the talent is there and it has always been there. It is just a matter of putting everything together because the mental part of the game is the toughest one.”

MN: How gratifying is it to be able to donate money to Baldwin High School, your alma mater?

KS: “They pretty much jump-started my career. When I got to Baldwin, I loved baseball but I didn’t love baseball as much as when they really taught us to play the game the right way. They taught us the appreciation of this game and what you can become. I mean, they all played (NCAA) Division I baseball. When you have got coaches like that, who know the game and know how to play the game the right way, it’s important and I think being able to give back to Baldwin was always on my priority list. It was always something I told coach (Shishido) when I got the major leagues, I said, ‘You know, my priority is to take care of my family first and then to help you guys out because you guys were such an important part of my life.’ To be able to do that, I think just to show the appreciation, for what they had done for me, the hours of sacrifice from their families to help us prepare, it’s cool. It’s cool.”

MN: Tell me about your family?

KS: “I have a baby girl, eight months old named Malia, my wife is Renee. (Being a dad) has definitely has changed my perspective. You have a daughter to take care of. Like I said, my main goal is to take care of my family. I want to help my wife raise our daughter together and I want her to be able to be happy and I want to take care of her. I want to take care of my family and I think that kind of gives you extra motivation in itself.”

MN: Have you seen "Moneyball"?

KS: “No, I haven’t seen it yet.”

MN: What is it like being in the A’s organization with Billy Beane (the central figure in Moneyball and the A's general manager)?

KS: “It’s cool. Billy has a great relationship with all his players. I talk to Billy a lot, we get along. We have always got along, we talk a lot. He is a smart guy. He thinks outside the box. He doesn’t do the normal thing. When you are working with a small-market team, you have to think outside the box, you have to really know how to scout and the A’s have a good scouting department. They are able to put out homegrown talent that is not going to be out there and purchasing players. They develop players and that says a lot about an organization.”


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