DETROIT — Maybe it’s the former football player in him, and the knowledge that the path to the end zone is sometimes not a straight one.
Or maybe it’s some zen-like idea of the journey being as important as the destination.
Whatever the case, Matt Tuiasosopo has finally found a home in major league baseball. And he wouldn’t change the meandering path it took for him to get there.
On Wednesday, Tuiasosopo was in the starting lineup for the Detroit Tigers for the 44th time this season, facing the team that drafted him in 2004, saw him make his big league debut in 2008, and ultimately jettisoned him in 2011.
He spent all of 2012 with Triple-A Buffalo, an affiliate of the New York Mets. Then in the offseason, after an email to Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, he signed a minor league deal with the Tigers – with an invitation to spring training – and somehow beat out six other players for the extra outfield spot on Detroit’s 25-man roster.
There have been times when he questioned himself, the game and his place in it. But this year, he says, has made it all worthwhile.
“I don’t think I’d want it any other way,” Tuiasosopo said of his circuitous career path. “You grow with the struggles, you grow with the grind.”
And he also grew because of fatherhood.
As much as anything, Tuiasosopo credits the birth of his son, Josiah, with helping him find inner peace in life and in the game.
On Feb. 17, he left spring training in Lakeland, Fla., to be with his wife, Abi, when she gave birth in Gainesville, Ga. But something went wrong during the delivery. There were complications. The umbilical cord was wrapped around Josiah’s neck. The ordeal left both mother and son in the hospital and Tuiasosopo adrift mentally when he returned to the Tigers.
“It changes you,” he said. “It changes your whole perspective on what’s important.”
With that realization, Tuiasosopo stopped agonizing over every pitch and every performance. It was that kind of thinking that led to self-doubt during his time with the Mariners.
“It was tough in Seattle,” he said. “I wasn’t sure of my role. I only got opportunities once in a while, and I was always wondering if I was doing enough. It wasn’t fun.”
So with a new mental approach and a healthy Abi and Josiah finally joining him in Florida in March, Tuiasosopo surprisingly played his way onto Detroit’s 25-man roster.
“I wasn’t even expected to make the team,” he said. “I just said, ‘Hey, go out and play.’ I didn’t have anything to lose. I believed I could play.”
Manager Jim Leyland even had a set role for him from the outset of the regular season, using him in a left-field platoon.
“Early on, he said if it’s a lefty starter, you are going to be our guy,” he said. “Just knowing that, it’s been nice. I’d look at the schedule ahead and see if there was a lefty and start preparing to face him.”
And with some early success for Tuiasosopo, Leyland’s trust in him grew.
“Every day, I expected to get in there,” Tuiasosopo said. “It would be either off the bench or when the lefty starters come. I just make sure I’m prepared and ready for whatever happens.”
There is calmness to Tuiasosopo. That trademark intensity born into anyone who shares his famous football last name now appears only at game time. There’s no need for it off the field.
“I’ve grown a lot when you face adversity in life,” he said. “My faith has grown in God and my trust in his plan for my life. I’m very blessed.”
The Mariners wrap up the four-game series with a 10:08 a.m. game Thursday. Rookie left-hander James Paxton (2-0, 0.75 ERA) is schedule to start against Tigers right-hander and former Mariner Doug Fister (12-9, 3.67 ERA). The game will be broadcast is on Root Sports, 1030-AM and 710-AM.