BOSTON – There have been fresh starts before for Travis Snider, and each time things were going to be different.
Take, for instance, last July 4 at Fenway Park, the same place he was Friday after rejoining the Toronto Blue Jays, when it was a series of mechanical changes he worked relentlessly on with hitting coach Chad Mottola at triple-A Las Vegas that had him positioned for success.
They didn’t, and 24 games later he was back with the 51’s, trying to figure things out.
What’s changed now, Snider believes, is that he may have finally put the whole package together. Mentally and physically, the 24-year-old insists, he’s is in as good a place as he’s been, and ready to deliver on the vast potential that’s tantalized teammates, coaches, front-office staff and fans for years.
"I think it’s the mindset," Snider said before doubling and scoring in three at-bats with a walk during a 6-1 win over Boston. "It’s something that you guys are going to hear a lot from me but it’s really something I’ve had to work hard on.
"In off-seasons in the past, there has been frustration, there has been emotion as a young man in this game and dealing with the ups and downs that I have. It’s how do you deal with those, how do you move forward and I could walk around with a chip on my shoulder and be bitter at the world and be angry every morning that this didn’t work out my way, or why did I get hurt here. But, timing and those kind of things are out of my control and I prepare myself each and every day, come to the park with the right attitude and the old saying, just do whatever I can to help the team win."
It all sounds so simple, so easy. It’s not.
Snider made his big-league debut at age 20, had long been held as the next franchise player in the Blue Jays system, and never really had to deal with failure. There were personal issues from his teen years to overcome, such as the death of his mother in a car accident, the loss of two grandparents in a two-year span, and anger-management issues he’s had to learn to manage.
That’s a lot for a young man to deal with, and coping with failure in a sport that had long been a refuge only made things harder.
"Going the last few years, injury, poor play, and up and down, up and down, up and down, it takes a toll on anybody whether you’re 21, 22, 23 or you’re 28, 29, 30 years old," explained Snider. "Gaining that perspective from being around guys in triple-A, who have a different situation in terms of how many years they’ve been playing or having families and kids, and other things that they have to worry about and really realizing how much I have to be thankful for.
"Even though this isn’t how I would have drawn it up, I think a lot of people wouldn’t have drawn it up like this, that’s life and understanding I have more time on this earth, I don’t want to walk around being angry at the world. I’ve done that in my life and that’s something I’ve had to work hard on to overcome and really just put myself in a position to wake up each and every day to be thankful for what I have."
Others have seen the change, too.
At triple-A Las Vegas, where he had been all season save for a rehab stint with single-A Dunedin, he earned points for his professionalism and positivity. Although he admitted it was at times tough to take watching others get called up before him, Snider remained a steadying influence at what can be the most embittering minor-league level.
Anthony Gose praised his guidance when he arrived in the big-leagues Tuesday and Snider tweeted out a message of support for the rookie after news of his promotion broke.
Manager John Farrell sees more maturity now, too.
"Just because of what he has experienced and the ups and downs, there’s a little bit more comfort with who he is as a player, and maybe just dealing with some of the initial expectations thrust on him as a young player, there’s been a lot of trial and error along the way, certainly the last two, maybe three times he’s been recalled, he’s gotten off to a quick start, then the league has adjusted to him and I think his awareness to the potential adjustments, depending on how he gets off initially, that’s going to be something he’s more in tune to," said Farrell.
"He’s not riding the roller coaster emotionally as much as he might have, those things bring him here in a better place."
Ultimately though, it’s going to have to translate on the field.
The strong starts followed by an inability to react to league adjustments that Farrell mentioned has been his pattern in the big-leagues, and this may very well be the last chance he has with the Blue Jays when his play on the field will be what primarily dictates the length of his stay.
GM Alex Anthopoulos said whoever plays better between Snider and Gose between now and when Jose Bautista returns from the disabled list will determine who stays once the slugger is activated, the other returning to triple-A Las Vegas.
If it’s not him, getting consistent playing time with the Blue Jays this season may be a problem. And with him being out of options next year, he’ll have to hope the team doesn’t make any off-season additions and then beat out Gose for the job next spring to avoid a demotion, which would put him through waivers and surely lead to a claim by another club.
Snider is working to keep all that out of his mind. He’s fought off the anger, fought off the frustration, fought off the doubt, and believes this is his time.
"When you struggle you’re going to have thoughts arise and you’re going to have those obstacles that you have to overcome, and it’s not to say, I woke up and was like, ‘Man, I don’t think I can play in the major leagues,’" said Snider. "It’s more, ‘OK, I got to get away from some of the excuses and some of the crutches, some of the ups and downs and injuries and things like that, and focus my mindset on the present moment.’
"I can’t go back and change what happened in 2009 or 2010 or even 2011. It’s 2012, we’re here in Boston and I’m ready to go. I’ve tried to move past what I’ve experienced from carrying that with me, other than in terms of as a learning experience and character building."
And perhaps why this start may not end with another abrupt stop.