New Nationals catcher Suzuki, family adjust to being relocated across the country

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SAN FRANCISCO — Renee Suzuki wasn’t looking at her phone.

Gone to the grocery store on a Friday morning that seemed like so many before it, she left her husband, Kurt, and their 15-month-old daughter, Malia, in their East Bay home while she picked up a few essentials. She’d put the phone away for mere minutes.

When she checked, her heart jumped. Seven missed calls from Kurt.

“I knew it was either the baby or he got traded,” Renee said Sunday morning with a laugh — the type of good-natured laugh that can only come when exhaustion has rid you any other reaction.

In the past week, while Kurt, the Washington Nationals’ new catcher, journeyed from Oakland to the District — and Houston and Phoenix and back to the Bay Area — undergoing the whirlwind that is adjusting to a new team, Renee has cleaned up the rest of their life’s suddenly loose ends.

Kurt holed up in a hotel. He met new teammates and learned new pitchers. He became acquainted with new coaches and signs, and new opposition in the National League. Renee packed their rental home, removed everything from their storage unit, summoned her mother up from Southern California and crammed everything she could from six years of their baseball life into the family’s two cars and a U-Haul trailer she attached to the back of hers.

She drove Kurt to the Oakland Coliseum that Friday morning, Aug. 3, as the family digested the news. Kurt packed hurriedly while Athletics director of team travel Mickey Morabito contacted Nationals vice president of clubhouse operations and team travel Rob McDonald, who put Suzuki on a flight to D.C. that evening.

Renee and Malia went home. Renee took a deep breath.

“We were walking out the door and he said to me, ‘All right, Renee, you’re sure you’re OK with all this?’” she said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ I came home and I said, ‘All right. Where should I start?”

“Your life changes in the blink of an eye,” said Nationals veteran Mark DeRosa, who was a part of a midseason trade in 2009 when he went from Cleveland to St. Louis. Being prepared for it is a must. DeRosa never really unpacked that year in Cleveland, he said. The Suzukis had begun the process, too, at least mentally.

“You have to or you’ll get really overwhelmed,” said Renee, a former volleyball player at Cal State Fullerton. “You have to anticipate this. It’s an adventure. I just do what I can on my end to make the family situation the best I can. I think if you stress out about it, you’re going to lose your mind.”

When A’s general manager Billy Beane called Suzuki that Friday morning, two full days had passed since the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. For the first time in weeks, Renee and Kurt had exhaled. The Suzukis live in the Los Angeles area in the offseason and, over the All-Star break, purchased a new home. They don’t close until Aug. 24, but dealing with all of that wouldn’t be too hard from Oakland. From D.C., it’s a bit more complex.

“It’s just wild and crazy,” said Renee, who headed from Oakland to L.A. two days after the trade. “We’ve got a good plan and the house is pretty much move-in ready, but the current house we’re in now looks like a bomb went off. It’s just boxes and baby stuff everywhere.”

They knew there was a possibility that Kurt, the A’s starting catcher for four years, might be moved. Suzuki’s playing time was cut with the emergence of former Nationals prospect Derek Norris, acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade last winter. He had started just 72 of the A’s first 105 games. But then the deadline passed. Suzuki was still in Oakland, and Norris recently had been optioned to the minor leagues. Three days later, Suzuki was a National.

“I haven’t felt like I’m on the ground yet,” Suzuki said — something that DeRosa said won’t happen until “the cable’s connected. When you can go home and watch TV at night.”

“You feel like you’re a freshman in high school again,” Suzuki added. “Trying to get to know people, trying to get comfortable in the situation. It feels like you have to prove yourself again almost.”

Renee and Malia traveled back to the Bay Area on Sunday afternoon, meeting Kurt and the Nationals when they arrived for a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants.

They’ll make their semi-permanent move to D.C. for the rest of the season in September, once things are finalized with their new house, Kurt has found a condo or apartment in D.C. and the Nationals open an 11-game homestand.

Suzuki puts on his uniform each night and knows things have changed. Gone is the green and gold, replaced by a red he’s getting used to. The days go by. The games go on. Baseball doesn’t wait for the rest of your life to catch up.

“It is kind of hard,” said Renee, whose only experience in Washington came during an eighth-grade school trip. “We leave all [our friends] behind and say, ‘We’ll see you when we see you.’ But the opportunities that D.C. offers, I think it’s exciting.”

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