When the Angels won their last World Series title in 2002, Kurt Suzuki — who at the time was a freshman at Cal State Fullerton — was among the many fans in Southern California going crazy in celebration.
There wasn’t much of an opportunity for Suzuki to catch live professional
When the Angels won their last World Series title in 2002,
There wasn’t much of an opportunity for Suzuki to catch live professional baseball in his hometown of Wailuku, Hawaii, growing up. So when he enrolled at Fullerton — just a few miles down the road from Angel Stadium — Suzuki immediately became a regular at the ballpark. A couple of years later, Suzuki became a Southern California sports legend when his game-winning hit against Texas sealed the Titans’ 2004 College World Series championship.
Now, after traveling the country as a professional on a 14-year journey through the big leagues that includes a World Series title in 2019 with the Nationals, the 37-year old Suzuki returns to Orange County looking to help another baseball team capture glory.
“I was right down the street watching Angels games throughout my college career. When the Angels won the World Series, I thought that was the coolest thing ever,” Suzuki said during a Zoom call on Thursday. “I’ve always had that thought of coming back to Orange County to play for the Angels and hopefully bring another championship back to Anaheim. At this point in my career, what’s more fitting than to join the Angels and win a championship?”
The veteran backstop was so intent on joining the Angels this offseason that he left offers on the table for more money and playing time, settling on a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Los Angeles last week. Location was an obvious factor in Suzuki’s decision, as he’ll now get the chance to live with his wife and three children on a full-time basis at their home in Redondo Beach. Suzuki also has a strong comfort level with new Angels general manager Perry Minasian from their time together with the Braves in 2018.
“We had an offer or two that was for more playing time and more money. But at this point in my career, our main focus was having the ability to stay close to home,” Suzuki said. “Obviously with the connection with Perry in Atlanta with his assistant GM, Alex Tamin, it seemed like a perfect fit. I love the group of guys the Angels have. This is a very talented team. I thought it was a perfect fit.”
The Angels expect Suzuki — who slashed .270/.349/.396 with two home runs and 17 RBIs in 33 games with the Nationals last season — to split time with Max Stassi in a backup role. This format is nothing new to the catcher, who recalled his time in Atlanta and Washington when he also shared a platoon with other backstops. Suzuki is also realistic about what stage he is at in his career. He admitted his body probably can no longer hold up catching 130-plus games, so a decrease in playing time may actually help maximize his production.
“At this point in my career, my job is to help this team win any way possible,” Suzuki said. “If I catch 40 games to help the team win, great. If I catch 60, 70, 80, then that’s what I’m going to do. With Perry and Alex, knowing those guys, they’re going to put me in situations where I’m going to be successful. Without running me to the ground, I feel at this stage in my career even if I’m older, I feel I have a lot left in the tank to help a team win. I’m excited to see how it goes.”
Regardless of how many games he plays, Suzuki’s experience handling pitchers figures to play a key role on an Angels squad looking to improve what was a poor year for its pitching as a whole last year — Angels starters combined for the second-worst ERA in the Majors.
Though analytics are not too kind to Suzuki when it comes to some of his abilities behind the plate, including pitch framing, Suzuki said he takes great pride in being sharp in all aspects of his defense, from throwing to blocking and game-calling.
“I want to be a well-rounded catcher. I know analytics hate me, receiving-wise, but I feel like I can bring a lot more to the table with game calling, sequencing and things like that,” Suzuki said. “I do put a lot of stock in analytics. But at the same time, I feel like I’m calling 200-plus pitches a game and 10 or 15 times a game I feel like if you can put down the right fingers, that almost takes more precedent over framing 10 times a game.”
Suzuki is also known as an all-around good guy in the league, which leads to others like Minasian constantly praising his ability to handle pitchers. Suzuki knows that having a pitcher’s trust is vital to success and that it has to happen organically over time, something he’ll work to earn during Spring Training.
“I don’t expect to come into camp on Day 1 of Spring Training and the pitchers all trust me. That would be pretty foolish,” Suzuki said. “think it’s that relationship. Knowing these guys on a personal level and knowing what makes them click and knowing when you have to fire these guys up or coddle them. I feel that with my personality, I click with pretty much every pitcher I’ve been around. If they know you’re looking out for their best interest then you’re on the right track, and that’s what I think I do well.”
Though he hasn’t caught any of the pitchers currently on the Angels’ roster, Suzuki mentioned Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney among the young and talented arms he’s excited to work with.
“I feel these are great, talented young pitchers that can become even better,” Suzuki said. “I love to be a part of young pitchers that have potential and help them out any way I can.”