Matt Tuiasosopo not taking roster spot for granted
All indications are that Matt Tuiasosopo, in his seventh season of pro baseball, will make the Mariners' opening-day roster. But the infielder won't believe it until manager Don Wakamatsu gives him the OK.
Seattle Times staff columnist
PEORIA, Ariz. — Almost certainly Matt Tuiasosopo will make the Mariners' opening-day roster.
He just doesn't yet know it. Or doesn't want to allow himself the luxury of believing it.
He has grinded too hard for too many years to get to this point. He has slowly navigated the treacherous minor-league chain. He isn't taking anything for granted.
A week before the season starts, Tuiasosopo isn't about to relax. He's not going to take a day, an inning, an at-bat off. Too much is at stake.
Already his career reads like a Kerouac novel, sounds like a country song.
Tuiasosopo has played in the Mariners' system in Peoria and Everett, Appleton and San Bernardino, San Antonio and Jackson and Tacoma. This is his seventh season in professional baseball and his best chance of sticking with the big club.
But he isn't about to celebrate. Not yet. He has been around too long and knows that too much can go wrong too fast.
Said Tuiasosopo: "Until we break this camp and I'm heading for Oakland; until Wak (manager Don Wakamatsu) tells me I'm on that plane, I'm going to come here and work my tail off and I'm not going to assume anything. I'm going to play third, short, second, left — wherever they need me. I'm going to come in here every day and show them I can do that."
From the June day in 2004, when he was drafted in the third round by the Mariners, nothing in the game has been guaranteed to Tuiasosopo. No leapfrogging the farm system, no rush to get ready.
From his first at-bat in rookie ball to his next Cactus League at-bat, every day has been an audition.
"It's been a grind," he said. "I've hit every spot along the way, just climbing the ladder. It's been a long run, but it's been a great run. But I feel like I'm at a stage where I can play up in Seattle.
"It's tough because it's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. You have to bring it every day. The toughest thing for me is to stay on the even keel, to not get too high or too low. Stay relaxed."
Tuiasosopo is hitting .319 this spring with two home runs and seven runs batted in. His on-base percentage is .373, but he has struck out 11 times in 47 official at-bats.
"I love this game because it always gives you another chance," he said. "If you go 0 for 4, you come back the next day and you have another chance. That's tough to do. It's not an easy game, but that's what makes this game so great. I love coming to the ballpark. Every day's a new day."
Tuiasosopo's battle with Josh Wilson for the backup infield spot has been one of the most interesting competitions in camp. Wilson isn't on the 40-man roster, Tui is. That gives him an edge over Wilson. It doesn't make sense for the Mariners to add Wilson to the roster now.
But Tuiasosopo, who will turn 24 in May, hasn't heard anything about his future. In his mind the battle still is on.
In these last days before the final cuts, all of the players on the bubble, position players and pitchers, feel the pressure.
"This is the first camp where I've come in knowing I have a chance to make the team," said Tuiasosopo, who opened last season on the roster only because Ichiro was on the disabled list with an ulcer. "It's the first camp where I felt like if I do what I need to do, if I come in here and do well, I have a chance to make the club."
These innings are precious for the players precariously sitting on the bubble. Their livelihoods are in the balance. Before Tuiasosopo's ninth-inning home run Saturday against the Dodgers, Wakamatsu acknowledged that Tui had been pressing.
It's only natural.
Sunday, with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning against the Cubs' Ryan Dempster, Tuiasosopo struck out.
Such is the madness of March for a player this close to making the team. The yo-yo ride is intense.
"That (home run) was just me being relaxed," he said. "It seems like sometimes when I start going good I want to start creating and I want to do more and more. There were a couple days there where I was trying to do too much, trying to finish up the spring strong.
"But you can only control what you can control. You can't get into the 'I want' mode. That's when you struggle. You can get crazy."
Relax. Just play. Have fun.
It sounds so easy. But these are the final days of baseball's spring, and even if it looks like Tuiasosopo has made the team, he knows too many crazy things can happen in the big leagues in the madness of March.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
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