Family fuels Tuiasosopo's quest for success
Tigers outfielder focused on diamond after complications during his son's birth
Sometimes it requires a heart-wrenching moment to provide the simplest guidance.
For Tigers outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, an epiphany arrived along with the birth of his son, who emerged into the world with his umbilical cord twice coiled around his neck, cutting off his oxygen flow, plummeting his heart rate and gradually tinting his body a bluish hue.
At that tenuous juncture, baseball was far removed from Tuiasosopo's thoughts.
Tuiasosopo's teammates hardly noticed that the 26-year-old outfielder was absent from camp on Feb. 19. After all, this was a guy who had e-mailed Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski during the offseason in an attempt to land any sort of opportunity with the reigning American League champions.
Dombrowski complied with a Minor League contract and a Spring Training invite in late November. Still, Tuiasosopo faced an uphill battle, with Brennan Boesch, Quintin Berry, Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos and Jeff Kobernus also vying for one available reserve-outfield position.
Before Detroit commenced its exhibition slate, Tuiasosopo traveled north to Gainesville, Ga., to be with his wife, Abi, for the birth of their first child. But havoc ensued.
"It was very scary," Tuiasosopo said. "We just kept praying."
The couple quickly noticed something was awry, especially once Abi's heart rate started to drop.
"The whole room started being filled with all these extra nurses," Tuiasosopo said, "and I'm just looking around like, 'What's going on?'"
Thirty distressing minutes elapsed while the doctor cautiously delivered baby Josiah. Any longer, the doctor informed Tuiasosopo, and he would have needed to employ a medical vacuum. As soon as Josiah arrived, the doctor clamped and cut the double helix surrounding the child's neck.
"I know deliveries like that happen," Tuiasosopo said, "but when you go through that, you see the heartache, you see the doctors constantly looking at the monitors and saying things. It's pretty intense."
The stress of the situation followed Tuiasosopo back to Tigers camp in Lakeland, Fla. With Abi and Josiah recuperating in Georgia, Tuiasosopo couldn't maintain his focus. He opened Grapefruit League play with zero hits and eight whiffs in his first 14 at-bats.
"I got off to a terrible start, just because my mind-set wasn't where it needed to be," Tuiasosopo said.
This wasn't the first time his psyche interfered with his career.
Tuiasosopo grew up in Woodinville, Wash., a half-hour drive from Safeco Field in Seattle. He could make the trip south on I-405 and then west on I-90 across Mercer Island and Lake Washington with his eyes closed.
Sure enough, the Mariners drafted the hometown product in the third round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. Tuiasosopo earned a September callup in 2008 and made the Opening Day roster the following April. However, without consistent playing time or a firm grip on a roster spot, Tuiasosopo's mind constantly spun a web of hypothetical questions, which consumed his attention and proved detrimental to his play.
Over 71 games with Seattle from 2008-10, Tuiasosopo compiled a .176 batting average (34-for-193) with five homers, 15 RBIs and 70 strikeouts.
"I was always worrying about making it when I hadn't made it," Tuiasosopo said. "Then I wasn't playing, so I was worrying about all that nonsense. My last year with them, I got sent down at the very end of spring, so I was worried how it was going to end up. Was I going to get back up? Am I going to be the first person they call up?"
Tuiasosopo flirted with similar speculation this spring. Then his wife and newborn son joined him in Florida in early March, and Tuiasosopo gained perspective.
Just as he had no control over the outcome in the hospital room on that February day, he realized he little say over his Major League destiny. All he could do was take care of business in the batter's box.
"You just don't know how life is going to unfold," Tuiasosopo said. "That's why I was able to be at peace, because I was just going to work hard and have fun -- because that's all I could do -- and the results were going to be what they're going to be."
The presence of his family eased his mind, and at Josiah's first baseball game, Tuiasosopo launched his first home run of the spring, a two-run shot off Mets right-hander Dillon Gee. He later tacked on an RBI double in the same contest.
Tuiasosopo never looked back.
"He caught everybody's attention," said right fielder Torii Hunter. "He didn't just open the door, he kicked the door in like 'Let me in.' He came to Spring Training with a plan to win the job, and he did that. Whatever dream or goal he had before Spring Training, he fulfilled it."
Tuiasosopo closed Spring Training with a .283 average, .368 on-base percentage, four homers and 10 RBIs in 60 at-bats. Manager Jim Leyland told Tuiasosopo the morning of March 26 that he earned an Opening Day roster spot.
"If there was ever a guy that came in and opened your eyes up and deserved a shot -- the way he's performed and the way he has gone about his business -- it's him," Leyland said. "And I think you reward people like that."
Tuiasosopo called his wife to deliver the news, and tears of joy immediately streamed down Abi's face.
"Josiah was sleeping," Tuiasosopo said, "but she told him, too. He knew."
The family will reunite in Detroit following a West Coast trip in mid-April. Tuiasosopo will certainly welcome their company, though he hasn't strayed from his patient day-by-day approach.
There remains one aspect that the new father can't fathom. His child's name, Josiah, means "the Lord saves." How fitting.
"That," Tuiasosopo said, "it's just amazing. He's a sweet baby, a sweet spirit. He's very calm and peaceful."
Like son, like father.