Suzuki is a Solid Backstop, and a Solid Guy!
Story and photos by Gordy Jones
As you can probably tell from reading Twins Talk, I’m a guy who grew up playing sports – especially baseball and softball. I played just enough to know the great feeling of being part of a team, and I would have given anything to have been talented enough to play in the majors. With that not possible, I am thankful for the good fortune of being a writer and photographer. I am able to get to know the guys who are skillful enough to make a living playing a game that I love.
While covering a game, sometimes I enjoy sitting back and observing the guys’ interactions. Even though I only played at an infant level, compared with these fellows, I can still get a good read on their status in the clubhouse. I can usually pick out the class clowns, the most studious, the hustlers, the thinkers, and the natural leaders.
One of the Twins’ new team leaders is Kurt Suzuki. I caught up with Kurt the other night. I asked him when he began playing ball, and what players he followed as a kid. He told me: “I started playing baseball around tee-ball age – 5 or 6. I never really had a player that I looked up to. Being in Hawaii, you are a little isolated from that stuff. The Braves’ games were on a lot, so obviously there were a lot of Braves players that I liked to watch. My dad was into sports; he liked baseball, but he wasn’t really in to it. I really liked soccer as I was growing up. But I would definitely go out into the yard, and my dad would throw to me. I’d catch a little bit, and he’d pitch; then he’d catch, and I’d pitch to him. He’d definitely be there for me whenever I wanted to play.”
Kurt looked up to his parents as role models, and then in high school he had two coaches who were also a big influence on him and his career. “They definitely helped me, they guided me the right way…in the right direction,” he explained.
I was thinking that Minnesota must have been a culture shock after growing up in Hawaii. But he said: “I love Minnesota! I love everything about it. We have a great stadium in a great city, great fans, and everybody is nice. And to be an All-Star here was phenomenal. To be on your first All-Star team at the home ballpark where you play is pretty special. It was a neat experience.”
His parents got to see him play opening day, and in the All-Star Game. He laughed and said, “It’s a little far from home, but they love it here.”
Kurt’s advice to kids: “I think kids should play as many sports as they can. I played basketball, baseball, soccer, and I golfed. I tried to do as many things as I could. I see parents trying to have their kids focus on one sport to try and go farther…but actually that is not easy. It’s difficult to become a professional athlete. You don’t want to isolate your kids, trying to make them a professional athlete. Let them have fun and experience many things. Play every sport and have fun with it.”
I asked Kurt what he likes to do when he’s not playing ball, “Actually, I just enjoy playing with my kids. I was always a family guy, even when I was growing up. I love going to the beach with my family, and taking the kids to the park. I love bike rides, too.”
I have watched Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki from afar, and I’ve seen his teammates approach him. They respect what he has to say. During their discussions, his arm might move in an instructional throwing motion, or he might be swinging an air-bat as they discuss a game situation. And as serious as Kurt might be, somewhere in the conversation he’ll display his great smile, followed by a laugh. Kurt is a clubhouse leader, and I’m glad the Twins have signed him for two more years.