An excellent Geoff Baker story in today's Seattle Times isn’t about Matt Tuiasosopo, but it could be a template for one that is.
Baker, the indefatigable Mariners beat writer for the city’s print daily, features one Steve Delabar. The latter, the M’s newest roster member, is a 28-year-old first-time big-league pitcher who, just a few months ago, was a retired minor leaguer and substitute teacher in Kentucky. But because of his miraculous response to pitching-arm treatment, Delabar got a serendipitous second chance at baseball.
Could the same happen for Matt Tui?
I hear the response: Nope, Matt Tuiasosopo ended his baseball career as a perennial minor-leaguer when the M’s cut him on Sept. 1. The widely held belief is that, even though he’s barely 25, a versatile position player, and a scion of one of the region’s best-known sports families, he'll never hit big-league pitching consistently.
Indeed, this season he didn’t even handle triple-A pitching convincingly. While Tacoma teammates all around him were hitting on average in the .300-plus range, Tui batted just .226, albeit with 14 long balls and 77 runs batted in.
While Rainiers teammates are getting called up to the major-league club, Tui suddenly would have no club at all. Unless he decides to try football.
Granted, second chances in sports are farfetched, even for fiction-writers. Several decades ago I floated a screenplay about a rising-star left-handed pitcher who blows out his arm and only later discovers that he can throw just as well or better as a right-hander. My treatment was, of course, laughed out of several agents’ and producers’ offices, even though far-less-likely real-life (“The Rookie”) and fictional (“The Natural”) baseball movies have been made.
Look at it a different way: As he stands there at 25, with 230 well-developed pounds on a 74-inch frame, Matt Tuiasosopo is not a has-been baseball player but a potential National Football League-caliber quarterback. Granted, he hasn’t played anything besides lawn-lob since his senior season at Woodinville High. From there he was projected to honor a letter of intent and play for the University of Washington, where, presumably, he’d become the next great QB in Dawg history.
Instead he signed a pro contract with the M’s, hit a home run his first professional at-bat and eventually put up underwhelming major-league numbers: .176 with five home runs through 71 games with Seattle.
Can he still play baseball? Maybe.
Could he still play football? About 90 percent of me says he couldn’t, at least not without the same dubious consequences as, say, Michael Jordan during his hiatus as a “pro” baseball player.
Tui is not widely viewed as an athlete as versatile as Bo Jackson, but who is? “Bo Knows” Jackson was the rare specimen (with Oregon-bred Danny Ainge and a few others) to compete superbly in a pair of big-league sports. Tui has shown no evidence, here again, of being able to make it even in his presumed first love, baseball.
Moreover, jock vanity can result in folly, as Jordan (a .202 “hitter” in 1994 with the AA Birmingham Barons) knows. The same may be the case with Nate Robinson, who, like Tui, is part of a storied local sports family. Robinson, an NBA veteran claimed – joked, as it happens – that he could be a credible walk-on defensive back for the Seahawks this summer. Had Robinson stuck with football at the UW, by now he could indeed be competing at a high level in pro football.
But quarterback, unlike cornerback, is the ultimate skill position in sports. True, Tuiasosopo hasn’t had to endure any football-related bruises during the seven years since he left high school. Neither, of course, has he had the occasion to learn and practice the skills required of an N.F.L. team leader.
And yet, it’s tantalizing to fantasize about second chances in sports, especially when they manifest themselves the way it seems to have happened for Steve Delabar. The chance for Matt Tuiasosopo, again, is remote. But there must be many who would love someday to refer to a successful NFL quarterback as “Two-ey.”