Even for him, it's hard to pinpoint when baseball surpassed football.
Maybe it was in 1998, experiencing the joy of leading Woodinville West Little League to the Western Regional Tournament as a 12-year-old. Maybe it was a hit on the field during his senior year in 2004 that knocked the love for football out of him. Or maybe for Buffalo Bisons third baseman and corner outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, it was the temptation of being different.
Whatever the reason, fact is Tuiasosopo could have been darn good at football.
He had all the tools like his dad Manu, a defensive lineman for the 49ers and Seahawks, and like his brother Marques, a quarterback for the Raiders. Tuiasosopo had the national attention, too.
In 2003 he was part of EA Sports' “Elite 11” best high school quarterbacks. Scout.com wrote: “He is among the nation's elite at the quarterback position.”
Among EA's top 100 list were plenty of current NFLers including Chad Henne, Max Hall, John David Booty, Curtis Painter, Caleb Hanie and former Buffalo Bills QB Brian Brohm. He was considered to be better than most of them.
Not everyone from the list made it, but believe it, Tuiasosopo, 26, had a good shot at playing America's most popular sport at the highest level.
But when it came down to picking baseball, being good at both worked against him. The fear of being jilted made Major League Baseball teams nervous.
“Teams didn't want to take a chance on me coming out of high school because of football,” Tuiasosopo said after a three-RBI performance in the Bisons' 7-1 win on Monday. “I was very thankful to (former Seattle Mariners GM) Bill Bavasi for giving me that chance.”
Bavasi called Tuiasosopo on draft day. He asked whether the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder was willing to forget about the NFL and play baseball for the Seattle Mariners' organization. He asked if the right-handed power hitter was willing to ride buses from tiny town to tiny town playing on poorly cured fields in front of fewer than 500 fans. To forget about bright lights of D-I football at the University of Washington, where he had signed a letter of intent and possibly the ultimate show, the NFL.
For some reason, starting a pro career in Peoria, Ariz., a level below Single-A, sounded more appealing than the biggest show in sports.
“God gave me the passion to play this game,” he said. “I wasn't as tough as people thought I was going to be, anyway.”
The Mariners selected Tuiasosopo in the third round in 2004 and signed him for $2.29 million, the largest signing bonus ever given to a draft pick at the time by Seattle. Third round in football usually means you have a pretty good chance to start. In baseball, for Tuiasosopo, it meant snaking his way through minor league cities.
“I think it was the idea of the journey that was exciting,” he said, pulling a gray T-shirt over his head, covering up the crucifix across his chest.
Not long after his brother Marques got his shot as a starting quarterback on Monday Night Football with the Oakland Raiders, Tuiasosopo was playing pro ball somewhere, who knows where.
“They've had my back,” he said, for the first time taking a serious tone. “They have actually had enjoyed the process because it's very new to them. We knew all about college football and a lot about the NFL draft. But with baseball and the minor leagues, we really didn't know anything.”
After Peoria, there were stops at Everett, Wash., Grand Chute, Wisc., San Bernardino, Calif., San Antonio, Texas, Jackson, Tenn., and, in 2008, he arrived back to his home state in Triple-A in Tacoma, Wash.
Tuiasosopo's trip through the minors, however, worked out basically the way he had hoped. He made his major league debut in 2008 with the Mariners on a September call-up. In his first game, hit a double off of veteran New York Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte. It was the payoff for four years of ups and downs from hitting a home run in his first at-bat back in Peoria in '04, to fighting through a terrible slump in San Antonio in 2006 in which he hit .185 in 62 games.
Tuiasosopo's numbers were somewhat underwhelming, but he had always been earmarked for the Big Leagues. He was ranked by Baseball America as the fifth best prospect in the Mariners' farm system in 2004, behind current M's ace Felix Hernandez and just ahead of current Orioles' star center fielder Adam Jones.
But things didn't go for the Bisons' infielder the way they went for Hernandez and Jones. In 2010, Tuiasosopo was given a chance to play nearly every day in the majors to begin the season but he struggled and was sent back to Tacoma. In August, he was given another shot, but again, did not hit well finishing the season with just a .173 average.
In 2011, he couldn't dig himself out of that hole, hitting .236 in Tacoma and failing to get a call from the last-place Mariners. The writing was on the wall...
He became a free agent and decided to drop his agent. Why? He wouldn't say. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would say.
So, Tuiasosopo and his wife started sending emails. The New York Mets responded.
“In talking with the front office, I love that they were up front and honest with me from the very beginning,” he said. “I trusted them and felt really comfortable with our talks and it's been a blessing.”
Who knows what went on toward the end in Seattle, but it's obvious he's happier now. And the Bisons are the beneficiaries. In 49 games, he's hitting .293 with a .371 on-base percentage and five home runs and the team is nine games over .500.
Before finishing the question about the makeup of the club, he interrupts with, “it's great.” In the background, Rihanna is blaring and several players are playing cards.
“We've got some personalities in here,” he said. “We enjoy playing together. It makes it easier and makes it feel good rooting for each other. This is one of my favorite groups of guys I've been around.”
For some guys, that doesn't matter. It does for him.
“I've been in some clubhouses where there have been confrontations and drama,” he said. “Here everyone is laid back. We enjoy playing cards with each other and we enjoy listening to some silly music...”
“Oh, we have all sorts of chick music that we listen to, man, if people only knew,” he said laughing like someone who hadn't been able to laugh much back in Tacoma. Like he enjoys it a little bit more every time he gets the chance.
Tuiasosopo is on the right path with his bat, contributing to the Bisons in the middle of the lineup and at multiple positions in the field. Whether he makes it back to the majors, he's aware isn't up to him. He can only keep hitting and hope for the best.
Maybe it hasn't been all he hoped so far, but he insists he's been blessed. He also insists that he doesn't regret not choosing football.
“My body isn't missing football, that's for sure,” he said.