Suzuki raises money for crash victim
Sets up fundraisers to help college teammate Wilhite
ST. PETERSBURG -- Kurt Suzuki played with Nick Adenhart on Team USA in an Olympic Qualifying Tournament when they were both prospects, but the news of the automobile accident that took Adenhart's life in early April hit even closer to home for Oakland's starting catcher.
Adenhart, a rookie pitcher with the Angels when he died, was an acquaintance of Suzuki's. Jon Wilhite, the lone survivor of the crash among the four people in the car, is a longtime friend.
They played together at Cal State University at Fullerton in 2004, when Suzuki helped the Titans win the College World Series shortly after being selected by the A's in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft.
"I was a junior and he was a freshman," Suzuki said Thursday before the finale of a four-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field. "He was a walk-on catcher, like I was when I got to Fullerton, so I'd been in his position before, and we hit it off right away. That team was special -- real close. We used to hang out all the time, and Jon was always a good kid.
"Everyone really liked him."
Now Suzuki is hoping everyone helps Wilhite and his family handle the massive medical bills associated with his six-week stay in the hospital, which came to an end Thursday, and the long and grueling rehab process that likely could take months if not years.
Suzuki and his wife, Renee, who also attended Fullerton, are raising funds for Wilhite, who is undergoing speech, physical and occupational therapy in Southern California. All funds raised through the Suzuki's efforts will help pay for Wilhite's recovery from injuries that required an operation on April 15 to reattach his skull and spinal column after a rare separation.
"Renee and I wanted to do something because he was always like a little brother to me," Suzuki said. "And I'm fortunate enough to be in a position where I have the resources and connections to do some things that could help out."
Suzuki said he's been exchanging text messages with Wilhite, who texted him Thursday to tell him he was discharged from the hospital.
"That's obviously great news," Suzuki said. "But he's still looking at a long, tough and not-inexpensive process of getting healthy again."
The first fundraiser, hosted on-site by Renee Suzuki, is a three-day silent auction during the CSU Fullerton-Long Beach State series that starts Friday. The auction will include autographed items by former Titans and LBS players currently in the Majors, including Suzuki, Chad Cordero, Bobby Crosby, Jason Giambi, Mark Kotsay and Kirk Saarloos.
During the month of June, the Suzukis, with the help of Orlando and Katie Cabrera, will host an online auction through oaklandathletics.com. Included in this auction will be new and game-used memorabilia from players and coaches around the Majors and autographed memorabilia from former players, including autographed Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon and Alex Rodriguez jerseys, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday bats, autographed game-used Jack Cust cleats and Suzuki's catcher's gear.
Also, Renee and other A's players' wives will sell "mystery" A's autographed baseballs during the A's-Angels games on Saturday, July 18, and Sunday, July 19. More than 300 baseballs, autographed by both A's and Angels' players and hidden in paper bags, will be randomly selected by fans for a donation of $40 to the Wilhite Fund.
On Aug. 1, all of the proceeds from the A's silent auction, which will take place behind section 120 during the A's-Toronto game, will benefit the Wilhite Fund. In addition, the A's Community Fund will match the total money raised in the silent auction.
Additional monetary donations can be made to the Jon Wilhite Recovery Fund, account 3980643658, at any Wells Fargo Bank branch, or to a tax deductible account set up through Manhattan Beach Little League by mailing a check to: Manhattan Beach Little League, P.O. Box 3512, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266, with "Jon Wilhite Recovery Fund" written in on the memo line.
"There's some cool things they're going to auctioning off, and it's really nice of O.C. and his wife to help because they've done things like this before, and we needed help," Suzuki said. "But the person who needs help the most, obviously, is Jon, and it'd be great if a lot of people came out and bid on this stuff so we can take some of the burden off him and his family."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.