Welcome back, Matt Tuiasosopo.
On January 2, the Atlanta Braves hired their old friend and former player to be the field manager for the Rome Braves. After having some veteran managerial leadership at the helm in Randy Ingle and Rocket Wheeler the past several seasons, Tuiasosopo brings a fresh perspective to the young Braves.
But for the soon-to-be 33-year-old, it is his rookie season all over again. The former third-round pick of the Seattle Mariners enjoyed a 15-year career as a player, making big league stops in Seattle, Detroit, and most recently Atlanta. Now, not even a few months after hanging up the playing gear, he’ll be mentoring some of the youngest Braves in the system.
Let’s get to know Rome’s new leader. Here’s Matt Tuiasosopo according to Matt Tuiasosopo.
One last go before walking away:
“Going into this time last year, I didn’t know what was going to happen. Wally Backman was up in New Britain, recruiting me to play up there.
“I started the process with my wife. You know, where’s my heart at. Am I still passionate and wake up and still want to play the game? When nothing happened, I had to be sure, so I decided to go up to New Britain and play. I had a lot of fun, actually played a couple of former Braves, my buddy Brandon Cunniff and Reid Brignac. Going to the field with the guys, that part was special. But I knew I was done.”
For Tuiasosopo, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when he started his coaching career:
“Absolutely. I always wanted to stay in the game. I visualized it way early in my career. I love the game, sports it’s in my blood. My dad [former NFL-er Manu Tuiasosopo], obviously, my two older siblings have been coaching at D-I schools for years. It’s in our blood to give back to the game, to the people coming after us. It seemed like a natural transition.”
Tuiasosopo is no stranger to the Braves youth rebellion. He watched it first hand:
“It’s funny. My two years in Gwinnett couldn’t have been two more opposite team. In ’16, we were veterans, the average starters age was like 28 years old, I think Rio Ruiz was our only big prospect that year. And then, Ozzie [Albies] got called up and [Johan] Camargo is up. I remember my first spring training seeing Camargo and thinking, ‘this kid is special. A switch hitter and he can hit.’ And just seeing guys below them, like Austin Riley, it’s been awesome, but not surprising, I was really impressed those two years I was there.”
One prospect he remembers most struck him out:
“I remember [Mike] Soroka struck me out in 2016. I had heard rumblings that this was one of the young studs. I remember being so impressed with his stuff in that one at bat I had against him. [Ronald] Acuña, getting to play with him, too. He’s definitely a top five guy I’ve played with or against.”
One of Tuiasosopo’s most memorable playing experiences didn’t come at the plate, but on the mound in his last year with Gwinnett:
“You remember that gem? I struck out two. I struck out a big-league hitter: Phil Gosselin. I give him so much crap every time I see him . Me and [Sean] Kazmar were going back and forth about it and he didn’t want it. I was a little nervous. You don’t just want to go on the mound and throw ball after ball. I was in the bullpen and I felt money, and then I got out there and that mound felt like it was so far away. There were a couple of throws I remember thinking I don’t know where this is going. It was a lot of fun. I just floated it in there and hopefully be ready if they crushed it right back at me. I still got the video and the ball.”
He considers himself blessed working with a familiar staff, starting with Bobby Moore:
Atlanta #Braves' 22-year veteran coach Bobby Moore will return as @TheRomeBraves hitting coach for 2019, under new manager Matt Tuiasosopo. Here Moore coaches a game on Friday, April 13, 2018, in Greenville, S.C. (Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images) #MiLB https://t.co/ztPLoydVXQ pic.twitter.com/DBI2e2Cgqh— Tom Priddy (@tpriddy) January 4, 2019
“Those two spring trainings, [Moore] was always in the cage with us. I got to work with him. Such a great guy. So positive. He works great with the kids I’m looking forward to learning from him. And obviously Kanekoa [Texeira], we’re boys. We we’re in Seattle together. We got the Polynesian connection, we’re like brothers. I even remember Wiggy [Wigberto Vevarez] from 2017. It’s always comfortable when you see those familiar faces. It’s huge.”
Now, Tuiasosopo is ready to teach the game, while he learns it from an all new perspective:
“I was 18 years old, I never played more than 25-30 games. Then that very next year, I was like, ‘144 games this is crazy’. It’s such a wakeup call and it’s a big adjustment period. You have to stay at it and stay consistent. That’s baseball, how consistently you can do the right things.
“I understand how hard this game is. That’s why I loved Snit [Brian Snitker] so much. He understood that. They step in there with us. Say, ‘hey, shake it off. We’ll get it tomorrow.’ The game’s still fresh for me. Trust me, I know how they feel right now. I’m with them.
“I remember one of my hitting coaches once said, “I don’t have any more bad days.” I’m excited to go to the ball park and not worry about hitting 95 mile per hour sinkers and nasty 12-6 curveballs. I get to go love on this kids and try to serve them the best that I can.”