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Suzuki, family to ponder playing future after most unusual season

Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki makes a catch to end a game against the Marlins on Sept. 20. Suzuki, a Baldwin High School graduate, recently completed his 14th major league season. AP file photos

After the most unusual season of his 14-year Major League Baseball career, a different kind of decision awaits Kurt Suzuki and his family as he becomes a free agent this offseason.

“I can say it’s definitely going to be the most family decision we’ve ever made about playing baseball, that’s for sure,” Suzuki, a 2001 Baldwin High School graduate, said Friday.

He just finished a two-year contract with the Washington Nationals after a 26-34 record during a 60-game season left the defending World Series champions short of the 16-team postseason.

“It was weird, man, obviously with all the COVID, the protocols, and all the stuff going on, it wasn’t the same,” Suzuki said. “You can look at it that way or you can just say, you know, we were playing baseball. … No matter if it was 60 games or 162, we were able to go out there and play baseball and have some fun.

“So, you can take a lot of positives out of this year. Obviously no fans and all that kind of stuff made it a lot more challenging, but at the end of the day we were blessed to be out there, able to perform, play some baseball. We were better off than a lot of things that were going on in the country right now.”

The Nationals’ Kurt Suzuki bats against the Braves during a game on Aug. 17, 2020. Suzuki hit .270 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 2020 while platooning at catcher.

Suzuki hit .270 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 2020 while platooning at catcher. His key career numbers — 1,347 hits, 133 home runs, 699 RBIs — are all the most for any Hawaii-born player.

As a 37-year-old catcher — his birthday was Sunday — there are a lot of question marks about his future.

“I haven’t really thought about it yet — I haven’t talked about it with my agent and my wife and family,” he said. “I mean, I talked to my family a little during the season about maybe next year just with this year being so weird, not wanting to end on such a strange type of season. Whether I play one more season, win or lose, it doesn’t matter, it’s a normal season, you can go out that way.”

Baseball is clearly still on his mind, as well as his kids. The Suzuki family — wife Renee, daughter Malia, 9, and sons Kai, 6, and Elijah, 4 — live in Redondo Beach, Calif.

The break before the start of the 2020 season gave Kurt time at home that he had never had with his kids during the summertime, including Father’s Day.

“I’ve got a lot of my teammates telling me I have a couple more years in me, but we’ll see,” Suzuki said. “It’s a time now to just relax and then when the dust settles, and I talk to my agent about it a little bit — about the options and things like that, what’s out there — we can make a decision.”

The Suzuki boys will definitely have a say in what Dad ends up doing.

“My two boys, obviously, they love baseball and that’s all they do,” Suzuki said. “I came home and that’s all we’re doing, is playing baseball in the yard. They were pretty bummed that they weren’t able to go out into the clubhouse and do the normal things and hang out with the guys.

“I think part of them wants to do that — ‘Daddy go play one more time,’ so they can go in the clubhouse and have some fun, but I think especially my daughter, part of (her) wants me to stay home. I know my wife wants me to be home.”

Renee Suzuki has gotten a boost from Kurt over the last week with online schoolwork and other dad duties. He has been able to drive Elijah to preschool since coming home.

“We’ll make the decision as a family and we’ll see if it’s the right decision to go play or just stay home,” he said.

Suzuki was happy to help provide a little bit of respite to baseball fans during the regular season amid the pandemic.

“I don’t want to say it healed the country, but I want to say that it did bring a little bit of normalcy back to the country,” he said.

His body feels good, “but I think for me it’s more mental, it’s more the mental grind than anything else. The competition, the preparation, the wanting to be the best, wanting to succeed — that type of thing really takes a toll on your mental state. You’re always pushing to become better and better and better. That part, that’s exhausting.

“Physically I feel great. I feel like I could play five, 10 more years if I wanted to, but I think the time will come when if it’s enough, it’s enough.”

When the interest is measured, offers made, regional access to his home base will be a factor. Going out with a more “normal” season would be good for his own psyche, Suzuki admits.

“I think it’d be good,” he said. “I think maybe for myself, thinking of myself, you know, baseball’s the only thing I’ve known and to be able to have a normal season where it’s not a COVID — like we called it ‘COVID season’ with protocols, no fans, and all these types of nonsense that was going on — you don’t want to end like that. You kind of want a normal season, win or lose.

“Being able to have my sons run inside the clubhouse and being able to hang out with the players and the trainers, coaches and things like that — I think that’s the most invaluable part of it, is having my family with me every step of the way.”

Suzuki keeps up with Maui youth baseball teams and Baldwin baseball. Two of his lifelong friends, Tyson and Kimo Higa, are Bears assistant coaches. His annual January baseball clinic that is a gathering of the who’s who in the Maui County baseball community will not be held in 2021, but he plans to bring it back in 2022.

Suzuki has some advice for the Maui youth athletes who are currently sidelined due to the pandemic.

“You want to tell the kids to keep their heads up, keep pushing towards their goal — we’re in a tough time right now and we’ve got tough times ahead of us,” he said. “We’re going to get through this, we’re going to overcome this obstacle and everything will get back to normal. We’ll get everything underway again and I think kids just need to stay positive.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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