It's a familiar time in Wisconsin at this point in the year; the snow has finally melted, the sun is finally shining, and the birds are back and singing. Listen close enough, however, and you'll hear those birds nearest Fox Cities Stadium singing a slightly different tune from when they left their baseball team last fall.
"We got a lot of talent here, all across the board," Timber Rattlers' first-year manager Scott Steinmann said shortly after Wisconsin's workout Tuesday afternoon. "Starting rotation, to the bullpen... to our catching. We have infield strength and some outfielders that have a lot of potential."
A big reason for Steinmann's positive outlook has to be the Mariner's third round draft choice from last season, infielder Matt Tuiasosopo. The 93rd overall pick in the 2004 amateur draft was sensational at the plate in the Arizona Rookie League, where he batted .412 (28-68) and finished with four home runs and 12 RBI.
When asked about the biggest challenge facing him for the upcoming year, Tuiasosopo mentioned the grind of a full season.
"Playing for 140 games, probably," said Tuiasosopo. "I've probably only played 40 or 50 games in a season before."
The shortstop was quick to point out how having a talented family come before him would help him overcome that. Matt's oldest brother, Marques, played quarterback at the University of Washington and now is a reserve on the Oakland Raiders. The middle brother of the three, Zach, was a fullback for the Huskies and his sister, Leslie, played volleyball for the University.
"You know, growing up, and watching my older siblings helped with what I've accomplished so far," he said. "You know, everything I've learned from my dad", (Manu, who played football at UCLA, and played in the NFL),"and my brothers and sister about playing the game and being mentally tough and mentally prepared. It will definitely help me through the season."
Tuiasosopo isn't the only player capable of turning heads, though. The Timber Rattlers line-up will also feature 2004 Northwest League all-stars Mumba Rivera, Brandon Green, and Brent Johnson.
A few others will be returning to the Wisconsin team for a second stint with the club this season. Outfielder Josh Womack, infielder Oswaldo Navarro, and pitchers Casey Abrams, Chad Fillinger and Eric O'Flaherty hope their mix of talent and experience will propel this Timber Rattlers team to new heights.
Steinmann summed up the season's expectations by simply saying, "I'm looking for some wonderful things from the team that we have this year."
For the Timber Rattler faithful, spring is finally here, and with the season's change comes the usual longer days, the warmer nights, and a brighter, more colorful sky. But while most of these changes appear normal, there is one thing that seems to be different from years past.
The grass is definitely greener on Wisconsin's side of the diamond in 2005.
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