Major League Baseball’s Japanese American Catcher

Major League Baseball’s Japanese American Catcher

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Twenty-six-year-old Kurt Kiyoshi Suzuki has played with the Oakland A’s since 2007, but he has never forgotten where he got his start.

The A’s catcher says he is proud to know every time he steps on the diamond that he is representing the state of Hawaii.

“Yes, being from a small state and doing what I’m doing, makes me proud and shows me how fortunate I am,” he said. “It’s great to carry that Hawaiian name with me.”

Suzuki, who is Japanese American, is from Hawaii where he attended Henry Perrine Baldwin High School.

The A’s catcher said he wears a puka shell necklace under his jersey to remind him of his hometown of Wailuku on the island of Maui.

baseball“I’ve worn it since I left the island to go to college and haven’t taken it off since,” Suzuki explained of heading off to college at California State University, Fullerton. “It might be superstitious, but mostly it just reminds me of home.”

Suzuki wore that puka shell necklace April 5 when the A’s kicked off the 2010 season against the Seattle Mariners. The two teams will play seven games during the first 10 days of the season.

Growing up in Hawaii as a JA has influenced Suzuki beyond his choice of on-the-field attire, he said.

“I think it gave me a little bit more of a laid back and relaxed attitude and the ability to really just have fun and enjoy life,” Suzuki explained about how the island culture influenced him. “Hawaii is a much different place.”

His Japanese heritage has also, he said, affected his demeanor in life on and off the diamond. “Off the diamond, it definitely leads to being closer with my family,” Suzuki said. “We spend a lot of time together over the holidays, so it’s helped me become more family oriented.”

Suzuki is regarded as one of the top catchers in the American League. He earned the nickname “Kurt Klutch” in college where he was awarded the Johnny Bench Award.

While playing for the A’s, Suzuki’s skills have also garnered acknowledgment. In 2009 Suzuki increased his batting average to .274 and hit 15 home runs. Suzuki was batting .249 in 2007 with 39 RBIs.

In addition to hitting seven homeruns and 42 RBIs in 2008, Suzuki was able to travel with the team to Japan.

“It was cool to experience professional baseball in Japan and the culture too,” he explained. “It was interesting seeing how the way of life differed over there. It was a fun trip and the food was great.”

His teammates and coaches also unofficially named Suzuki MVP last year. For his work on and off the field, Suzuki’s teammates and coaches also named him as the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Award recipient in 2009.

Setting an example for others, the 26-year-old stepped up to the plate when a former college baseball player needed help.

He raised over $61,000 for the Jon Wilhite Recovery Fund. The fund benefited Jon Wilhite, who was injured in a fatal car crash that killed Angels’ pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others.

“Anytime you are in the spotlight you feel like a role model.” He added, “When kids look up to you, you have to make sure to carry yourself in the right way, and that you provide good examples for them.”

Suzuki said his parents were always supportive of everything he did including baseball. He offered words of encouragement for younger Japanese Americans:

“Just keep working hard and never give up,” he said. “There are no limits if you have a good attitude.

Jordan Iserson contributed to this story.