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Tuivailala stays connected with social media

Mariners reliever creates quite a following during injury rehab
Special to MLB.com

SEATTLE -- It's not easy staying a part of a team during a lengthy injury rehab, but Mariners reliever Sam Tuivailala found a way to bridge the distance through social media.

After being acquired in a trade with the Cardinals last July, Tuivailala had only been with his new club 11 days when he blew out his Achilles tendon in a rundown between third base and home on Aug. 8 in Arlington.

SEATTLE -- It's not easy staying a part of a team during a lengthy injury rehab, but Mariners reliever Sam Tuivailala found a way to bridge the distance through social media.

After being acquired in a trade with the Cardinals last July, Tuivailala had only been with his new club 11 days when he blew out his Achilles tendon in a rundown between third base and home on Aug. 8 in Arlington.

Video: SEA@TEX: Tuivailala injures Achilles during rundown

Before he'd had much chance to settle in and learn his new teammates, the 26-year-old right-hander was spending time instead with trainers and medical staff while preparing for season-ending surgery.

But Tuivailala didn't detach. Instead, he became one of his teammates' biggest Twitter followers from his couch in California as he watched on TV. As Edwin Diaz racked up a Major League-leading 57 saves, he'd often pick up his phone after returning to the clubhouse and see a notification:

"Mentioned by Sam Tuivailala:"

Tweet from @EdiDiaz44: Thanks bro 🔥🔥🔥 see you soon

The effort didn't go unnoticed from his new friends.

"He wasn't here, but he supported us, he supported me and he supported our team," said Diaz, who has since been traded to the Mets. "You feel good when you see that because even though he wasn't there personally, his mind was with us. We felt proud about that."

After just five outings, Tuivailala had been growing into a seventh-inning role for Mariners manager Scott Servais, but instead found himself live-tweeting games and interacting with teammates and fans on the Internet.

"I was literally just with them, so it felt weird not being on the field," Tuivailala said. "I was basically just watching the game by myself and I just went to Twitter. Just to send a tweet here and there during the game to get my excitement out when something big happens."

But the righty didn't just share his words on social media; he took some action as well. Unable to play baseball, he decided to start playing video games for a purpose.

Tuivailala hosted several online sessions for thousands of people at a time, including some paying subscribers. He uploaded live gameplay of himself playing games like Fortnite or Call of Duty along with video of himself talking about the game during the 2018 baseball season and first few months of the offseason.

"Obviously I had a lot of down time and I'm a big gamer when I'm not on the field," Tuivailala said. "That's kind of my outlet, kind of like my little therapy when I'm done with baseball."

Tuivailala raises money for the village of La Cuneta in the Dominican Republic through the Big League Impact, a non-profit founded by Adam Wainwright -- his former Cardinals teammate. Money will go toward helping the villagers have sustainable food and clean water, with extra funds going toward the construction of a baseball field, Tuivailala said.

"Everything I raise from streaming, I'm just putting it right back to the charity, so I'm not profiting off anything," Tuivailala said. "I didn't have a lot to do, so if I'm going to play a video game, I might as well play for a cause. And that's another way for fans to kind of interact with me."

Fans can communicate with Tuivailala through a text chat on the stream, but he also invites his paying subscribers to team up and play games alongside him and talk with him over the game's voice chat service.

Tuivailala said he couldn't quite figure out who the gamers in the Mariners' clubhouse were during his short time there, so he started playing alongside former Cardinals teammates Michael Wacha, Jedd Gyorko, Kolten Wong and even Trevor Rosenthal -- who all spent time on the disabled list last season.

Those who want to help Tuivailala in his social media and fundraising efforts can follow him on Twitter and Instagram, subscribe to his Twitch feed or purchase one of his custom T-shirts, featuring the word "UNITY" with design elements personal to Tuivailala.

"They wanted to incorporate tribal designs inside the letters of 'UNITY,' and those tribal designs are actually pieces of my tattoo," Tuivailala said. "With every T-shirt that everyone's wearing, you get a little part of me with you guys."

But with as much fun and goodwill as Tuivailala has been able to spread in the virtual world, his goal now is getting back on the field as quickly as possible. The Mariners expect he'll be ready to return by June.

Tweet from @Stuivailala: Feels good todo this again pic.twitter.com/qWL22uDXxx

Tuivailala isn't sitting on his couch waiting for that to happen. His offseason has been filled with rehab work, and he was recently able to start throwing again. And to let the world know? He took to Twitter, of course.

David Gottlieb is a contributor to MLB.com.

Seattle Mariners, Sam Tuivailala