Suzuki vows to bounce back
WAILUKU – As Kurt Suzuki peered out across the expanse of Maehara Stadium on Saturday morning before his third annual All-Pono Kurt Suzuki Baseball Clinic, he remembered where he came from.
He also vowed that as a 30-year-old catcher on a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Minnesota Twins, he is far from finished.
“I feel like I have a lot of years left,” the 2001 Baldwin High School graduate said. “I feel like I haven’t even reached the peak yet, so I’m looking forward to the years to come.”
Last season, while with the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics, Suzuki threw out just eight of 65 base stealers, a rate of 12 percent. In 2012, he threw out 28 of 93 base stealers and his career rate over seven seasons is 26 percent.
His batted .232 in 2013 and .235 in 2012, well off his lifetime average of .253.
“I’m great,” Suzuki said when asked about his health. “The last couple years dealing with certain things, they come up in baseball. You are going to have your ups, you are going to have your downs. I’m looking to build off the last couple years, make some adjustments and come back stronger.”
Shane Dudoit, an officer for the All-Pono Foundation, watched more than 150 youth players, including 20 each from Molokai and Lanai brought over at Suzuki’s expense, take part Saturday.
“I think the kids of Maui, as well as the parents, are very fortunate to have such a great role model like Kurt Suzuki,” Dudoit said. “He is a professional and a great baseball player, but even more than that he is a great person. He shares his humble attitude, local upbringing, his parents, with the kids.”
Former Baldwin teammate Tyson Higa is now a Baldwin assistant coach.
“From when we were younger, he would always give back,” Higa said. “His parents, they were willing to give back to the Maui community. He always remembers where he came from, Maui.”
Suzuki, who signed with the Twins last month, will take over for veteran all-star catcher Joe Mauer, who is moving to first base. Young catcher Josmil Pinto is waiting in the wings.
“When I go into spring training, my job is to play as many games as I can,” Suzuki said. “I’m not a real vocal guy, I like to just do things by example, but whatever they need me to teach, I’m always willing to help people out, so it’ll be fun.”
He is never more valuable to baseball than when he is home, putting on his clinic.
“This is awesome,” Suzuki said. “This is a great opportunity for me to come back and give back to the community, the kids. Like you said, this is where it basically all started, playing high school ball here.”
Suzuki is in Minnesota after being traded by Oakland to Washington in 2012, and vice versa in 2013.
“The last couple years, like you said, I’ve been bouncing around, so to be in Minnesota with a great organization, a good young team, I think it will be fun,” he said. “I’m comfortable anywhere, wherever they need me, I’ll do.”
Suzuki and wife Rene welcomed son Kai to the family on Nov. 4. While Kai slept in his stroller on Saturday, grandfather Warren Suzuki chased older sister Malia, almost 3, all over the grounds.
“I have two kids and a wife to come home to,” Suzuki said. “I love the game of baseball, but family will always be No. 1 to me.”
Suzuki has donated scholarship money and helped Baldwin construct a baseball building above campus in the last few years.
“I think it is real important,” he said of donating to the program. “The whole Baldwin staff and high school, they have given so much to me and I have been blessed with that. Anything I can do to help out, I’m fortunate and blessed to be able to do things like this. It makes you feel good, for sure.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com