Snider Saga Part III: A ‘burden’ is lifted

September 27, 2012, 12:26 PM

Earlier this month Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi sat down for a lengthy interview with former Toronto Blue Jay Travis Snider. Over the course of 90 minutes, the 24-year-old opened up for the first time on what he believes went wrong during his once promising, yet ultimately turbulent time in Toronto.

In Part 3 of 3, Snider works hard to get his mind in a better place, gets blindsided twice and then packs his bags for Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, Sept. 25: Part I: Clashes with Cito

Wednesday, Sept. 26: Part II: A deal gone sour

Shi Davidi will be a guest on Blue Jays Central tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET to dicuss his three-part Travis Snider exclusive.

PITTSBURGH – On July 31, 2012 Travis Snider boarded a 6:30 a.m. flight from Seattle to Chicago, headed to the visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field shortly after landing and donned the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first time.

Looking in the mirror, the vision was jarring. Just three days earlier 16 of his Toronto Blue Jays teammates were at his house enjoying a steak barbecue and bonding, Snider at last feeling like it was time to settle in.

Then on July 30, without notice, he’s called off the field in the seventh inning, handed a cell phone with GM Alex Anthopoulos on the other end, was told of the trade, and off he went.

In an instant, the 4.5 turbulent years that have come to define him were over, a fresh start waiting.

"It was like a restart button was hit for me, no thought of Cito Gaston, or 2009 or 2010 or the contract that I turned down, or any of that stuff," says Snider. "It was like that burden had been lifted."

Here’s the final installment of how things went so remarkably wrong between him and the Blue Jays.

***

As important as the past off-season was for Snider to ensure his right wrist healed fully from a bout of tendonitis, it was even more crucial to him to get his mind in a better spot to fight for a job in the big-leagues.

He read Shawn Green’s book, "The Way of Baseball, Finding Stillness at 95 MPH" and that propelled him into deeper readings on meditation and mental discipline. He found it made sense "for the things that I wanted in my life, in my career, and the understanding that happiness is the ultimate discipline.

"Being 23-years-old in triple-A and bitter, where is that going to get me in life? Absolutely nowhere. Being 21 in the major leagues and dealing with adversity that a lot of guys go through and feeling like my life is some kind of movie, or everybody should feel sorry for me, that thought process I didn’t want to buy into. I wanted to put the past in the past, I wanted to come into spring training and do what got me to this point of my career, compete. It was such a great off-season for me in preparation for the rest of my life."

Right off the bat in spring training, however, it was clear the competition for left field between him and Eric Thames wasn’t going to be much of a contest.

Thames routinely did his work with Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus, Snider in groups with other prospects or fringe players. On March 25 the Blue Jays optioned Snider to triple-A Las Vegas, a move he was prepared for, and mindful of his new focus on worrying only about what’s in his control and living for each day, he returned to the 51s intent on being the best player he could be.

Feeling a growing confidence in the swing changes he instituted a year earlier, Snider mashed the ball right out of the gate, sensing that "everything was clicking, and when it’s right it’s right. That’s a good feeling."

But on April 26, his new calmness was tested when he jammed his right wrist diving for a ball in the outfield. Snider initially attempted to rush his way back before it had fully healed, setting himself further back. He was rehabbing in Dunedin, Fla., when Thames was optioned down to Las Vegas on May 29, stressing that "an opportunity for me was there and the injury there could have been the worst timing in the world."

Catching himself, Snider regained control, got himself healthy and upon his return to Las Vegas, hit a couple of home runs during a series in Tucson and started to wait for the phone to ring. But in the interim, Rajai Davis emerged from his bench role to take over the job in left field, and that meant trouble.

"I started to slip mentally, saying, ‘What more do I have to do? The guy I lost my job to is in triple-A now, there’s not really a guy there now who in my mind is competing for that job and what are we waiting for?’" remembers Snider. "It took me five, seven days of feeling sorry for myself again to say I can’t play like this, and I made that adjustment."

Despite no hint of a recall, Snider maintained his steady play through the all-star break in July, but upon his return, he didn’t immediately regain that form.

The timing was terrible since members of the Blue Jays front office were touring through the system then, and when Bautista injured his wrist July 16, GM Alex Anthopoulos opted to recall top prospect Anthony Gose instead.

While Snider was thrilled for Gose, whom he’d become very good friends with, he was frustrated for himself, even after he thought out the chain of events that led to the decision.

He didn’t ask for a trade but discussed with his agent whether "a possible change of scenery would benefit me in terms of where the Blue Jays were showing they were moving towards the future, and realizing I wasn’t a part of that. It wasn’t so much a blow to my ego because I understood the business, and at that point I needed to do what was best for me."

In his mind, he started to divorce himself from the Blue Jays, from his dreams of one day starring alongside close friends J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie, Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud and Gose.

"Throughout the year I wanted to set myself up, not only for my stock as a piece in this business, but for opportunities with other teams, and not be the guy who feels sorry for himself or goes to triple-A and never really figures it out and walks around bitter," he says. "That’s no way to live your life and no way to play the game."

Prepared for a move before the trade deadline, he was blindsided again, this time in a good way, when the Blue Jays recalled him July 20 on the same day they completed a 10-player trade with the Houston Astros.

Snider did a complete 180 in his head, re-embracing all the dreams he had shut himself off from, and set his mind on making this opportunity count. In his first game at Boston, he doubled and scored, then homered and drove in three runs in the third game of the series to help the Blue Jays complete a sweep of the Red Sox. He settled back into the Blue Jays clubhouse, feeling a part of the core again.

Even better was a trip home to Seattle on July 30, a chance to see some family and friends, and have some teammates over for one of his famous barbecues.

"I was playing well, all that other stuff disappeared in my mind, I didn’t think about getting traded," he says.

Then, in what seemed like a snap of the fingers, it was all gone. "That’s the real side of this game. You’re out there in the field, seventh inning, your manager is waving you off the field, and you’re like, ‘Did we screw up in the lineup, what’s going on, not even thinking the trade deadline is tomorrow.’ I’m handed the phone, brief conversation with Alex telling me what happened and saying thank you, giving our respects and moving on."

The deal was to the Pirates in exchange for right-hander Brad Lincoln, who was chosen 10 spots ahead of him, fourth overall, in the 2006 draft, and who like Snider, was someone yet to reach his potential in the majors.

The next night Snider was on the field for the Pirates, collecting a hit and a walk and scoring twice in a 5-0 win, but it took him a couple of days to really separate himself from the Blue Jays.

"The guys I grew up in the minor-leagues with, and our opportunity to all get together and play, that’s what I dreamed of doing my whole career," he says. "Me and J.P. talked about this when we were going to our first big-league camp, how cool would it be if it’s me and you and Ricky in a couple of years. This will be our team. It’s so far away, then everything happens so fast, and it was man, everything in professional baseball I knew was the Blue Jays."

Sixteen months earlier, Anthopoulos was on the verge of making a long-term commitment to Snider and cementing his status as part of the club’s core. Now, the club’s long-time great hope was gone, years of disappointment and frustration left behind.

"We didn’t look to trade him," says Anthopoulos. "Look, anybody can be traded. Adrian Gonzalez signed a monster deal, plenty of players have signed contracts and been traded. I don’t think that’s uncommon. A year and a half is a long time in this game. I expected Travis to be here a long time, I expected Aaron Hill to be here a long time, I expected Vernon Wells to be here a long time, I expected Roy Halladay to be here a long time, I expected Alex Rios to be here a long time. Things change with players so fast sometimes we all scratch our heads."

Some familiar faces greeted Snider upon his arrival in Pittsburgh. Former teammates A.J. Burnett and Rod Barajas are now with the Pirates too, as is third base coach Nick Leyva, who was part of Cito Gaston’s staff in Toronto.

In acquiring a player with so much past baggage, GM Neal Huntington said he told Snider upon his arrival, "why we acquired him, what we expected of him, that he’s got a clean slate here and we’re excited to have him."

The approach in handling such players, he added, is based on first trying to understand the reasons behind their success and failure, "and build a relationship based on trust so that when we go to a new player with a recommendation, it’s not off the cuff, it’s not something the second swing they take, or the second game they throw in our uniform. We’re going to try to learn about them, who they are, why they’ve had success, why they haven’t had success, and put together a larger picture plan for them to let the player show us what they can do."

This is now Snider’s best opportunity to put it all together, to become the player everyone expected, after a learning curve he could never have imagined.

The past is forever a part of him, but in a new place, with new people around him, it’s easier to only draw on the good, and forget the bad.

"Whether you’ve got 10 years in the bigs and $100 million contracts, or you’re a first-year guy playing for a new team, you have to understand there are going to be things you don’t agree with," says Snider. "But at the end of the day, they make the decisions, so to sit there and to be frustrated and to allow that to affect your mindset isn’t going to be positive in any way. You can learn, OK maybe I should have done this differently, but if there’s a young player that reads this and gets anything out of it, it’s control what you can control.

"I’m thankful for everything that I learned in my time in Toronto. I wish things would have worked out and I’d been able to play for that organization in that city and the fans. It’s important because I genuinely feel like those people cared about me. Now it’s that restart, that refresh, it’s an opportunity for me to acknowledge what happened, and learn from those experiences."

Tuesday, Sept. 25: Part I: Clashes with Cito

Wednesday, Sept. 26: Part II: A deal gone sour

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