[ COLLEGE BASEBALL ]
CWS takes precedent
over MLB for Suzuki
The Baldwin grad will wait to
turn his focus to the Oakland A's
Kurt Suzuki and the Cal State Fullerton Titans are right where they wanted to be at the end of the 2004 season: playing in the College World Series.
College World Series
All times Hawaii time
Where: Omaha, Neb.
When: June 18-28
TV: ESPN and ESPN2
Tomorrow (Bracket 1)
>> Arizona (35-25-1) vs. Georgia (43-21), 8 a.m.
>> Texas (55-13) vs. Arkansas (45-22), 1 p.m.
Saturday (Bracket 2)
>> South Carolina (50-15) vs. Cal State Fullerton (42-21), 8:30 a.m.
>> Miami (49-11) vs. LSU (46-17), 1 p.m.
After being drafted in the second round of Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft by the Oakland Athletics on June 7, the thought of a professional baseball career was secondary to Suzuki's desire to keep the CSUF uniform on all the way to Omaha, Neb.
The Titans (42-21) open play Saturday against South Carolina (50-15) at 8:30 a.m. Hawaii time. ESPN will broadcast the game. Win or lose, CSUF will play its second game on Monday.
The Baldwin graduate takes his cuts from the No. 3 spot in the Titans lineup. The reason coach George Horton has him batting there is obvious from the statistics Suzuki has compiled this year.
He leads the Titans in batting average (.437), runs scored (73), hits (101), home runs (16), runs batted in (86), walks (44), sacrifice flies (9), on-base percentage (.527) and slugging percentage (.753).
His 86 RBIs tie him for sixth place with current San Diego Padre Phil Nevin on the school's single-season list.
Those numbers alone validate the nickname "Kurt Klutch" for the junior catcher who came to Fullerton as an invited walk-on.
Suzuki credits a change in his approach at the plate for his outstanding campaign that came on the heels of a solid sophomore season.
"The last couple of years I was more of an aggressive hitter. This year I wanted to focus more on balls in the strike zone. I wanted to be able to drive every ball over the fence," said Suzuki, who acknowledged that approach required more patience.
It also took patience for Suzuki and his teammates to rebound from a slow start that had the Titans saddled with an 11-12 record entering Big West Conference play.
"We looked at our conference as a 21-game World Series. We wanted that to be our first championship, one of many in the future," Suzuki said. He helped add championship wins at the regional over Pepperdine and the super regional vs. Tulane. Next up, the big one, the College World Series.
Since the start of league play, Cal State Fullerton is 31-9.
"We started to turn our season around in conference by focusing on playing hard, playing the right way and it worked out for us," Suzuki said. "We knew Tulane was going to be a good team. We knew we had to play defense, throw strikes and our hitters had to have good at-bats. If we did that, then hopefully the scoreboard would reward us after the game."
The Titans outscored their opponents 68-19 in seven regional games.
Suzuki had mixed memories of his trip to Omaha last year.
"I remember getting there and seeing Rosenblatt Stadium sitting up on a hill, walking in with a bunch of baseball fans and it was all very exciting for me," Suzuki said.
"We lost in the semifinals, lost two in a row to Stanford after being in the driver's seat. The Cardinal have been our Achilles' heel. We decided then to get back to Omaha again and win a national championship.
"I don't think our approach will be any different this year. Maybe our drive will be a little more this year and we will be a little more hungry. I still get a little nervous before every game. It's a nervous excitement. I just go out and have fun, try to enjoy the moment and play as hard as I can. We're coming off a lot of wins, so we are confident going into the College World Series."
The 5-foot-11 (confirmed by Suzuki despite other reported heights) catcher is a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award that will be announced June 30.
Suzuki was named the Big West Conference Player of the Year, is a first-team All-America pick by Collegiate Baseball and a second-team All-America selection by Sports Weekly.
Tuesday he picked up another honor when he was named to the All-American Division I second team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
He has an advisor who is negotiating with Oakland, but none of what is being discussed can be presented to Suzuki until his college career is finished. He hopes that does not happen until the last week of June when CSUF is involved in the best-of-three CWS championship series.
This is the second time the Titans have made consecutive trips to the CWS and their 13th visit overall.