WAILUKU - Kurt Suzuki has not seen the "Moneyball" movie. He has lived it.
Suzuki, a 2001 graduate of Baldwin High School and the Oakland Athletics' starting catcher, will report to spring training next month as one of two Maui players with a major league contract, and prepare for his sixth big league season.
His entire professional career has the been spent in the Athletics' system - meaning he's been playing for general manager Billy Beane, the subject of the book "Moneyball," turned into a film with Brad Pitt in the lead role.
Kurt Suzuki, shown during a clinic Saturday at Maehara Stadium and playing for the Oakland Athletics last year, is preparing for his sixth major league season.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"It's cool. Billy has a great relationship with all his players," Suzuki said Saturday, before the Kurt Suzuki All Pono Baseball Clinic at Maehara Stadium.
"We have always got along, we talk a lot. He is a smart guy. He thinks outside the box. He doesn't do the normal thing. When you are working with a small-market team, you have to think outside the box, you have to really know how to scout and the A's have a good scouting department. They develop players and that says a lot about an organization."
After playing at Baldwin, Suzuki led Cal State-Fullerton to a College World Series title before being taken in the second round of the 2004 draft.
"It is very gratifying, being able to be in the position I'm in, to give back to the community," Suzuki said. "I don't think people realize how important the support is, especially being a Maui boy, a local guy, having the support of your hometown behind you 100 percent is pretty amazing and it is a pretty surreal feeling."
Baldwin coach Jon Viela, who was an assistant for the Bears when Suzuki was an all-state catcher, runs the All Pono Foundation in memory of his deceased son to help Maui youths develop in sports.
"When Kurt mentioned that he wanted to do something for the community last year I knew that his intention was to give back to the kids from where he grew up," Viela said. "With knowing how he was raised by (parents) Warren and Kathleen, it didn't surprise me that he wanted to give back to the kids - that is just the way he is."
Viela said that he and then-Baldwin head coach Kahai Shishido heard a good deal about Suzuki's abilities from his older sister, Kari Ann.
"Definitely, from when he was in 7th or 8th grade, his sister was our statistician and she kept on telling us, Kahai and myself, to keep an eye on her brother because he was good," Viela said. "Just knowing siblings, we thought that she just wanted to put in a good word for her brother, but she obviously knew that he had something special. He has helped out the program, he has helped out the school, he provides scholarships for athletes to go to college."
Suzuki is entering the second season of a four-year, $23 million contract and is scheduled to make $5 million this season.
The A's have not made the playoffs since 2006, and their best season with Suzuki was 2010, when they went 81-81. Playing in the American League West could mean another uphill climb.
"You never like to rule anything out," Suzuki said. "You definitely have to go out there and perform. Obviously, Albert Pujols with the Angels, C.J. Wilson with the Angels, the Rangers being who they are, signing Yu Darvish as well, the Mariners being a great, young, talented team, you still have to go out there and perform on the field and that is what I like to tell. That is what I am going to go out in spring training and say, is: 'We may not look like the best team on paper, but we've got a lot of young talent, we have got a lot of energy.' "
Suzuki is a new father - his and wife Renee's daughter, Malia, is 8 months old.
"It definitely has changed my perspective," he said. "You have a daughter to take care of. My main goal is to take care of my family. I think that kind of gives you extra motivation in itself."
Once the season starts, Suzuki is a busy man. He has played 528 games at catcher in the last four seasons, and a typical day starts at 1 p.m. for a game that begins at 7.
"I will go to the video room, watch video for probably about an hour, hour and a half, and then I will go to the batting cage for about 20 minutes, 30 minutes," he said. "Then I will go meet with the pitching coach and the other catchers to do a scouting report, more scouting reports together, and then we have got to go out and stretch for batting practice. I will come in early, meet with the pitcher, the starting pitcher that day and the pitching coach to go over a game plan for the team. Then I will go and change my clothes, get into my game clothes. I will go warm up, go stretch in the training room, whatever I have to do, and then go do my stuff to get ready for the game. And then I will go out there, so downtime is very minimal."
This offseason, Suzuki has worked out with Kula resident Kanekoa Texeira, a reliever who signed a minor league contract with the Cincinnati Reds organization earlier this month.
"I tell the guys in Oakland, 'If this guy comes free, get him because he is good,' " Suzuki said. "He has got a lot of potential."
Suzuki threw out 38 would-be base-stealers last year, third in the major leagues, while batting .237 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs.
"You never want to stop, you want to go out there and perform and you want to become the best player out there," he said. "And that's my goal, I want to be the best catcher in the major leagues and I am never going to stop until I get to that point."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org