As he sat in the San Francisco International Airport waiting for the plane that would restart his career, Kurt Suzuki was excited.
The Oakland Athletics traded the veteran catcher and 2001 Baldwin High School graduate to the Washington Nationals for another catcher, prospect David Freitas, on Friday. The A's are including cash in the deal to pay for part of Suzuki's contract.
"I wasn't expecting it, I thought there was a chance at the trade deadline I would be moved," he said while waiting for his flight to Washington. "Since it has passed it kind of caught me off-guard a little bit.
KURT SUZUKI, traded to Nationals
AP file photo
"I have had a great run in Oakland. I was drafted there, it is the only organization I have known. They gave the opportunity to become the player I am today."
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo scouted Suzuki in college at Cal State Fullerton, where he led the Titans to the College World Series title in 2004 and was the Johnny Bench Award winner as the nation's top catcher.
"He's one of the best catch-throw defensive catchers in the game," Rizzo said on the Nationals' website. "We feel that his upside with the bat is going to be good. He's hot right now. He hit very well in July, so we think we're getting a hot hitter that can handle the staff and a guy who's in the Gold Glove conversation each and every year he's been a major leaguer."
Suzuki leads American League catchers in fielding percentage (.996), runners caught stealing (23) and caught-stealing percentage (38.3).
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Suzuki will immediately become the club's starting catcher. Johnson managed Suzuki during the qualifying tournament for the 2008 Olympics.
"When Mike brought it up to me that Oakland would move Suzuki, I said, 'Man, that would definitely bolster our catching corps,' " Johnson said on the website.
Friday's trade reunites Suzuki with pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who the Nationals acquired from the A's in the offseason.
"I have a little history with those guys, now I am looking forward to working with the Nationals," Suzuki said. "I am looking forward to working with a pitching staff that is incredibly talented. Going to a team in first place, I am just looking to do whatever I can to help out."
Suzuki, 28, is hitting .218 with one homer and 18 RBIs this season. He was no longer the No. 1 catcher for the A's, splitting time with Derek Norris and recently acquired George Kottaras.
Suzuki is the second Maui-born major leaguer to be traded this week, joining Shane Victorino, who was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers from Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Because the deal was done after Tuesday's trade deadline, Suzuki had to clear waivers before being moved. He has a four-year, $16.25 million contract, which runs through 2013 with a 2014 option.
He signed the deal in July 2010.
Suzuki is the highest draft pick in Maui County history, going in the second round to Oakland in 2004. He has a .254 career batting average with 57 homers and 302 RBIs in six major league seasons.
"He's a guy that can really, really take that rotation and get it going even better than it already is," Rizzo said. "He's caught a lot of really good staffs. He's got a great baseball IQ. He's known in the industry as a great game-caller, a great defensive guy and handler of the staff."
Suzuki said he will not change his approach.
"I will just be myself, a high-energy guy, just having fun," he said. "Do the best I can and bring the best I can to the field."
He said he will miss Oakland.
"I would be lying if I said there wasn't a little bit of sadness, because of all the relationships I have built," he said. "I call the guys that work in the clubhouse my brothers, my teammates that I have built relationships with, the coaching staff. Everyone on that staff, (manager) Bob Melvin and I have become close."
He goes to a team with No. 1 overall draft choices Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, and leads the National League East by two games.
Suzuki has never been to the playoffs.
"It is emotional leaving that (Oakland) clubhouse," Suzuki said, "but I look forward to working with the Nationals and help them go to the postseason."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org