All good for the All-Star
He’s a 30-year-old catcher who has been traded twice in the last two years.
His current contract is for one year and a modest $2.75 million.
Kurt Suzuki, however, is now an American League All-Star. It has been on his mind throughout this resurgent season.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Suzuki said Monday. “I was definitely thinking there was a possibility coming down to the last couple weeks before the selection.”
In his first year with the Minnesota Twins, the 2001 Baldwin High School graduate is hitting .300 – 12th in the American League – and his 34 RBIs are two more than he had all of last season, spent with the Oakland Athletics and Washington Nationals.
It’s a decisive turnaround from four consecutive seasons of descending batting averages under .245.
He has thrown out 21.4 percent of potential base-stealers this year, more in line with his career rate of 25.8 in eight seasons. Last year, it was a career-low 12.3 percent.
Suzuki also has two home runs and 18 doubles this season.
It’s a simple formula that has led him back.
“The whole season I was just really trying to just have fun,” Suzuki said. “If I went out there and did that, I felt like I would put myself in a good spot and I would be able to perform like I want to perform. Like I said, the last two weeks I kind of figured, ‘Hey, there might be a possibility, you never know what can happen, just keep playing, keep having fun, don’t worry about it and whatever happens, happens.’ And it led me to the All-Star game.”
Sunday’s announcement of the rosters made Suzuki the fifth Hawaii-born player to be selected for an All-Star game, and the second from Maui, joining outfielder Shane Victorino (2009 and 2011). The other Hawaii-born All-Stars were pitchers Sid Fernandez (1986 and 1987), Charlie Hough (1986) and Ron Darling (1985).
This season’s All-Star game is scheduled for Tuesday at Minnesota’s Target Field. Introductions will be a hometown moment Suzuki has imagined since he was a child.
“I would definitely think, ‘I want to feel like Griffey, like Bonds, McGwire,’ ” he said. “You have got all these players on one field and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wow, that’s so cool.’ I never really envisioned myself being an All-Star, but to be on that field for the home run derby, to be introduced, especially in front of the hometown crowd in Minnesota just to be recognized amongst the game’s greatest players this season, it’s just unbelievable.”
The Twins signed Suzuki in the offseason, part of a plan that moved six-time All-Star catcher Joe Mauer to first base.
“You’ve got a guy that controls our pitching staff, knows the league very well, and communicates with the pitchers very well and runs a ballgame,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said Monday. “He’s not afraid to run out there and talk to a pitcher. He takes as much pride in not giving up runs as he does driving them in – you need that from a catcher. We lost when we moved Mauer from behind there – we knew that was a big hole – and this guy’s done a really nice job.”
Suzuki said he is looking forward to being on the field with his children – Malia, 3, and Kai, 8 months – for the home run derby on the day before the All-Star game. Suzuki’s wife, Renee, and his parents, Warren and Kathleen, will be in Minnesota for the festivities as well.
“(Malia) understands that I play baseball,” Suzuki said. “I don’t think she understands the meaning of All-Star games and stuff like that, but I think as she gets older and she has pictures of something like that, I think that will definitely be a cool thing. Just to have the kids on the field and my wife’s there, my family’s there, I think it’s going to be a cool time.”
The goal now is to be in the major leagues long enough for Kai to join his sister in knowing what dad does for a living. The last few years of doubt have been erased.
“I kind of believed in myself. Me and Renee, we talked in the offseason about being in baseball, about my career so far, about how it would be so cool if I actually were able to play long enough where Kai would understand it,” Kurt said. “She’s always been the biggest supporter of me and talking to my agent this offseason, I said, ‘One more shot. I understand what I’ve done my last two years, I understand the position I’m in, I understand that I’m not a sought-after guy this offseason.’ But I said, ‘If I get one more shot I will prove it that I can still play this game at a high level.’
“I put a lot of work in in the offseason, I worked hard and to be able to see the fruits of the labor was very gratifying. I couldn’t be happier right now.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com