As Punahou prepares to defend a historic string of seven state baseball titles tomorrow in its Interscholastic League of Honolulu season opener, one thing Buffanblu coach Eric Kadooka knows for sure is Michael Suiter will play center field.
The Gatorade Hawaii baseball player of the year will captain Kadooka’s outfield as a starter for the third consecutive season. Amid the pressures of furthering the program’s championship streak, Suiter gives Kadooka a sense of stability on a team he deems "one year away from being great."
And while the team may pose multiple questions to its skipper, Suiter will deflect most of the pressure centered on a team laden with youth and inexperience, something Kadooka knows the senior can handle.
"There’s no guide in how to do this," said Kadooka of his program’s recent domination. "(Suiter) is going to serve as an umbrella for all the younger guys we have. All the attention will be on him as the young guys get to play, and work on competing at this level."
At 6-foot-2, and nearly 200 pounds, Suiter brings a solid frame, loads of speed and a wealth of knowledge of how to play the game. He has already accepted an offer to play baseball at Santa Clara, and depending on how he performs this season he could test the professional waters.
"It’s definitely an option, and if the money’s there, I’ll do it," said Suiter of his potential path into the professional ranks. "But I’ve got to wait and see because it’s an option I want to pursue as my dream. This summer, I’m going up to play in the Alaska summer league (on recommendation from his soon-to-be college coach). As far as where I stand (with the scouts), I’m not sure because they don’t really tell you. They play that game, nothing’s too concrete."
Suiter spent the summer in Long Beach, Calif., competing in the annual Area Code Baseball Games from Aug. 5 to 10. The exclusive invitation-only tournament pitted teams composed of the nation’s top high school prospects against each other while more than 150 professional scouts looked on. Not only did Suiter get the rare invitation, but he made it through the grueling tryout process to earn a spot on the roster.
"It was really fun; I got to see the best high school players in the nation, and see how I stand," Suiter said. "Just the way that we played baseball at Area Code is so much different. Up there, you’re facing pitchers throwing in the mid-90s (mph) on a regular basis, and then you come back to Hawaii, and there’s maybe one guy throwing in the low 90s. It’s a whole new ballgame."
Kadooka praises Suiter’s work ethic, and his effort to improve despite already achieving so much. The coach noted that as Suiter gained more accolades and recognition, he has worked harder. It is that lack of complacency that Kadooka says separates Suiter from the rest.
"He’s never big-headed, he works harder every day, and he’s hungry," Kadooka said. "Even with all the attention on him personally, he’s still thinking about what he needs to do to help the team. He’s seen where other high school players around the nation are at, so he still doesn’t think he’s that good (relative to where he wants to be)."
Suiter has approached his situation as a player and it’s no coincidence that he receives regular advice from someone with first-hand knowledge of what he’s going through. Michael’s brother, Matthew, now a junior at the University of San Diego studying engineering, was a mainstay in the Punahou outfield prior to his younger brother’s arrival, and was part of three state championships in his tenure. Having that resource just a phone call away provides Michael with reassurance any time he needs hitting tips, or advice on handling certain situations.
"It’s pretty cool; I’ve always looked up to him since I was young," said Michael of Matthew. "Whenever I’m in a slump, I call him and he has the best things to say. In baseball you fail a lot when you’re hitting, so he always helps to keep my spirits up."
How he adjusts to that failure is also part of the process.
"He’s a tough out, and he’s one of the leaders of that club," said Kamehameha coach Vern Ramie. "It’s uncanny how he has the ability to get the big hit and get on base whenever they need runs. He’s one of the guys that makes them go."