Matt Tuiasosopo: "If anyone was going to fight for my career I wanted to do it rather than an agent." (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit — How good has reserve outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo been for the Tigers? Minutes after the Tigers' 7-5 loss to the Astros Thursday, angry Tiger fans were complaining about Don Kelly pinch hitting for Tuiasosopo in the ninth inning.
That is high praise for a guy that was out of baseball in 2012. Tuiasosopo had placed too much pressure on himself in his hometown of Seattle and appeared to be one of those AAAA players — good enough for the minors but not quite good enough for MLB.
Tuiasosopo believed he belonged in baseball. He certainly looked like a major league player when he went 3-for-3 and knocked in a run against the Astros Thursday. Then manager Jim Leyland sent the left-handed hitting Kelly in to face right-hander Jose Veras.
There were two problems: The right-handed hitting Tuiasosopo is batting .429 against right-handed pitchers. Kelly is batting .162 against right-handers.
Tuiasosopo did something unusual to get back into baseball. He got on the computer and wrote to every general manager in MLB.
He wanted a shot. He felt he could help any club and he told them why.
Most teams passed and wished him well. Two teams did not. The Dodgers and Tigers said they'd consider signing him to a minor league contract.
The Tigers showed the most interest and the rest is history.
"I felt like I was fighting for my career. If anyone was going to fight for my career I wanted to do it rather than an agent," he said in explaining his letter writing campaign.
Friends were happy for Tuiasosopo in landing on an MLB roster in Detroit. But the Tigers? This is a team that features Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder.
"I was looking for the best opportunity to get into the big leagues," he said. "A lot of people said there is no way you are going to break into that team. But in my heart I knew I could do it. I just believe God gave me the ability to play this game."
Tuiasosopo hit .327 in spring training and Leyland gave him a spot on the roster. He's picked it up even more during the regular season. Tuiasosopo is batting .375 with two home runs and 12 RBI in just 40 at-bats. He platoons in left field with Andy Dirks and helps in any way he can.
"It feels great to be able to contribute," Tuiasosopo said. "You watch all these guys like Miggy and all the big-time guys who are in there day in and day out. You just want to help out. I am thankful for being here among them. I want to go out there and produce for the team and work hard to help the team win."
Dirks understands the difficulty of waiting your turn. He's been in that position before where he was forced to wait four or five days to get an at-bat. Sometimes players grow stale when they are sidelined that long. That is why Leyland likes to get all his players in the lineup.
"You just have to walk into the ballpark with the same mentality every day whether you are in the lineup or not," Dirks said. "You work day in and day out and go about your business like you are going to be in the lineup."
Tuiasosopo is excited to be a Tiger but he insists that being a baseball player does not define him.
"This game does not define me, and that has freed me up to go out and play free," he said. "And trust me, no matter what happens I have a family that loves me. People are going to say negative things but that does not bother me because of my relationship with Christ. That reduces my fears of playing this game and my fears of failure in this game and in life."