baseball: The inside pitch
Maui boys Kurt Suzuki of Oakland and Shane Victorino of Philadelphia go against each other in a three-game series starting today.
Maui County Councilman Mike Victorino is at McAfee Coliseum this week, cheering on Baldwin High graduate Kurt Suzuki, the starting catcher for the Oakland A's.
"Only to a point, of course," Victorino said, chuckling during a phone interview yesterday.
That's because his son, Shane, starts in center field for the Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland's opponent in a three-game interleague series beginning tonight and ending Thursday.
Like Suzuki, Shane Victorino was born in Wailuku. He graduated from St. Anthony High School in 1999, two years before Suzuki finished at Baldwin. This is the first time in Major League Baseball history two players from Maui are in the same game, and it's the first time Suzuki and Victorino are playing against each other since high school. (There's only one other player in MLB annals who was born on Maui, Tony Rego, who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1924 and 1925.)
It is also an intriguing matchup from a pure baseball aspect: Suzuki is one of the best young defensive catchers in the game, and Victorino is a blossoming star at stealing bases.
"We'll have a little showdown this week," said Suzuki, who has thrown out a better-than-average 19 of 51 base stealers in this, his second season.
Victorino stole a career-high 37 bases in 41 tries last season. He is 17 of 20 this year.
When they last met, nearly a decade ago in the Maui Interscholastic League, Victorino stole two bases and Suzuki nabbed him once, according to Suzuki.
"I probably did steal some bases against him, but I'm pretty sure he got me a couple of times," Victorino said. "I do remember we won the game."
"Did he tell you to tell me that? Yes, they beat us. But we won a state tournament."
They are friendly rivals, and excited about the series.
"I think it's huge, just because it's the first time ever," Suzuki said. "It kind of shows that baseball-wise there are some talented players (from Maui and Hawaii). It puts Hawaii on the map."
Victorino said he knew Suzuki was an outstanding player from small-kid time on Maui.
"I always thought he was a great catcher. Strong arm and very solid defensively," he said.
Suzuki raised his season batting average to .279 after hitting .500 last week and is being considered for American League Player of the Week.
"It's just baseball. I started off well and tailed off," said Suzuki, who hit .249 in 213 at-bats as a rookie. "I've been working hard in the cage with the batting coach. I'm adjusting to major league pitching."
Suzuki led Cal State Fullerton to the 2004 College World Series championship. He won the inaugural Brooks Wallace Award, his sport's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. The A's drafted him in the second round.
Victorino turned down a football scholarship at Hawaii and signed out of high school with the Dodgers, who picked him in the sixth round of the 1999 draft.
He made his big league debut with the Padres in 2003 and stuck with the Phillies in 2006.
Victorino is batting .270 for the season and .273 for his career. He was also a soccer and track star at St. Anthony, and is sometimes mentioned as one of the better all-around athletes in baseball. He had 11 outfield assists in 2006 and 10 last year. Word may be getting around to not run on him; he has thrown out just one baserunner this season.
"Center's a little different than right (where he started last year)," Victorino said. "I haven't had many (assist) chances this year."
He and Suzuki have opportunities to make their families, their home island and state proud this week.
"Kurt's parents are here, too. The next three days will be very exciting for the County of Maui, and the entire state of Hawaii," Mike Victorino said. "It speaks volumes on how far we've come."