One more run?
Suzuki weighing options after completing 10th major league season
WAILUKU — Kurt Suzuki is at a crossroads.
About a month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, one of the top Hawaii-born players ever has a decision to make.
Should the 10-year major league veteran give it another shot? Or should the father of three — he and wife Renee welcomed youngest son Elijah seven months ago — ride off into the sunset and a life of taking the kids to school every day?
The 2001 Baldwin High School graduate has made more than $30 million in his career as a catcher for the Oakland Athletics, Washington Nationals and Minnesota Twins. He was an American League All-Star in 2014 for Minnesota, where he finished a three-year run at the end of the 2016 season and became a free agent.
“There’s some teams out there, (it’s a) feeling-out process right now,” he said on Saturday at the sixth annual All Pono Clinic he runs for Maui County youths. “I know it’s kind of late in the offseason, but I talked to my agent last night, a lot of interest out there. He’s not too worried. He wants to seal things up here kind of shortly.
“Obviously geography is going to be kind of a big deal. Opportunity, weather, the financial aspect as well. Everything kind of has to make sense. I fully anticipate playing, and just kind of waiting to see what kind of right offers come around.”
Suzuki passed Shane Victorino for the most runs batted in by a Hawaii-born player last season — Suzuki has 519 career RBIs, 30 more than Victorino. Victorino leads Suzuki in career home runs, 108-83, and in career batting average, .275 to .256.
The pair grew up in Wailuku. Victorino graduated from St. Anthony two years before Suzuki finished at Baldwin and has gone on to become a two-time All-Star in 11 MLB seasons, winning four Gold Gloves and two World Series titles.
“I think it’s pretty special,” Suzuki said. “Obviously, I followed in the footsteps of Shane, he did it first. He was somebody that kind of everybody followed and looked up to. I think what he’s done in his career is pretty special. World Series, Gold Gloves, All-Stars, I think that’s pretty neat, so to be a part of that is a cool thing.”
Perhaps the most important part to Suzuki is showing Maui County youths exactly what is possible.
“I don’t like to say it, but you kind of think of yourself as a role model a little bit,” Suzuki said. “You want to be a good role model to these kids and show these kids how to do things right. That’s kind of what we’re doing with the clinic here.”
Suzuki doesn’t want to think about who might be the best ever Major League Baseball player from Hawaii at this point.
“You get reminded of that when you do milestones like that, things come up and people say stuff,” he said. “For me, the main thing is not who’s the best, it’s more of just being proud of representing the island of Maui. … You want to make sure that you do things the right way, you want to lead these kids into the right direction.”
Former Baldwin coaches Jon Viela and Kahai Shishido, who coached Suzuki for the Bears, and current Baldwin coach Shane Dudoit were among numerous Suzuki friends at the clinic.
“You play with all these guys and you build the friendships and they last forever,” Suzuki said. “It’s a cool thing to all get back together.”
Shishido, who is now Baldwin’s athletic director, remembers a savvy catcher at the turn of the century that his teammates called “Pup.”
“You could see the potential,” said Shishido, a former standout baseball player at the University of Hawaii. “But more importantly his work ethic, his discipline, the willingness to sacrifice, and team-first attitude — I think those are the things that got him to where he is.”
Whenever he could, Suzuki watched the remarkable run of Maui youth teams this summer when four different age levels qualified for World Series, culminated by the world crown for the Central East Maui Little League Intermediates.
“I’ve got my teammates, Major League Baseball players texting me, saying, ‘Turn on the TV, your boys from Maui are dominating,’ “ Suzuki said. “It’s a cool thing that these kids are being recognized by Major League Baseball players. It’s a pretty neat experience, especially coming from a small island like this.”
Haku Dudoit, Shane Dudoit’s son and the starting catcher for the world champion Maui Intermediates, got a chance to chat with Suzuki on Saturday.
“Kurt, he’s a very good guy, very respectful,” Haku Dudoit said. “He’s a great catcher and he inspires me. I met him and everyone is just surprised on how I met a professional catcher.”
Suzuki turned 33 in October. And even though Elijah, older son Kainoa, 3, and daughter Malia, 5, keep them busy, Renee Suzuki has given the green light to one more run in the majors.
“My daughter is in kindergarten now, my son’s in preschool and we just had our little one,” Kurt Suzuki said. “Priorities change — family’s always No. 1 importance to me. They will always be the first thing that I think about when I make any type of decision.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot in me, but there comes a time when everything has to stop.”
Suzuki admits that life after baseball comes to mind more often now.
“I think about what it would be like to have a summer off with no kids having to go to school and to come back to Maui whenever I please,” he said. “To be able to take my kids to all their sporting events. My wife, she said she’s ready for another adventure, so we’ll see.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.