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They Have Mask Ball for Titans

As catchers and best friends, Pilittere and Suzuki provide emotional spark for Cal State Fullerton.

June 18, 2003|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Omaha — One great thing about baseball is that it can forge lasting bonds. Just ask Cal State Fullerton's P.J. Pilittere and Kurt Suzuki.

They are catchers for the Titans. In essence, though, they are one. Each is the other's biggest booster, and where others provide the quiet leadership for this College World Series title contender, Pilittere and Suzuki provide the fire.

"Those guys do not stop the whole game," freshman shortstop Justin Turner said. "They won't let us get down."

Pilittere said it was no surprise that teammates call them brothers. They live in the same apartment at school and are best friends.

"How can you not like the guy?" Pilittere said of Suzuki. "He's always smiling. We're always having a great time out on the field. It definitely made the situation we're going through a lot easier. I'm his biggest fan and he's my biggest fan."

Coach George Horton said their relationship was a prime example of two individuals accepting the team concept.

"What really separates them is their commitment to each other," Horton said. "Their lack of jealousy. Make no mistake about it, they are the emotional leaders of our team."

That close relationship began quickly in the fall of 2001 when Suzuki came to Fullerton from Baldwin High on Maui. Pilittere took it upon himself to befriend his new teammate.

"I figured, 'He's from Hawaii and he's going to need people to help him out,' " said Pilittere, who is from La Puente Bishop Amat. "I didn't look at it as, 'He's going to take my job.' I just showed him how to act on the field, how to be a good leader, how to carry yourself and how to handle your staff."

Although both have played major roles in managing a pitching staff with a 2.77 earned-run average, the sophomore Suzuki has taken over regular duties behind the plate because of his defense. He hasn't committed an error in 433 chances over two seasons.

Pilittere, because of his offense, has stayed in the lineup as the designated hitter. The junior was instrumental in Sunday's 6-5 victory over Stanford, going two for three and scoring the winning run. He's batting a team-leading .373.

"It's been a tough call for us sometimes," Horton said. "Nobody lost their job. It was a just a case of where Zuk had such a tremendous regional. He basically won that game against Notre Dame by throwing out [Steve Sollmann] and picking him off base. You look across the field and I think opposing coaches say, 'We can't run on this guy.' "

Suzuki has also come through at the plate. He ranked fourth on the team with a .353 average but got his biggest hit May 18 in the regular-season finale against Long Beach State.

With a regional-host spot on the line, Suzuki belted a three-run homer, capping a five-run, ninth-inning rally for a 9-7 victory. It was his third game-winning hit in the ninth this season.

"That's why I came to this program," he said. "I wanted to be in these clutch situations and come up with the big hit."

Pilittere, meanwhile, relishes his role as dugout ringleader.

"Being a vocal leader for me is easy because I like to talk to all the guys," Pilittere said. "If we're struggling or lagging out there, I can be the one to get in their face. At the same time, I can be my teammates' best supporter."

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