|Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider talks to a coach during practice at their spring training facility in Dunedin Florida, February 14, 2011. (REUTERS/ Mike Cassese)
DUNEDIN — Travis Snider slipped quietly back into the Blue Jays lineup on Saturday. No hype, no wild predictions, just a good day at work for a guy who understands how humbling the game of baseball can be.
Three years ago, Snider was the posterboy for a Blue Jays future that fizzled under general manager J.P. Ricciardi. It wasn’t Snider’s fault by any means that he was pushed through the minor-league system too rapidly.
But through injuries, his own immaturity and the demands that were placed on his young shoulders, he has not yet lived up to the early promise. There have been flashes but even Snider acknowledges that only through consistency will he ever tap his potential.
This training camp began with an ‘Oh, not again’ moment when Snider irritated a ribcage muscle just before camp while playing golf. Now, two weeks later, that’s behind him. He started in left field against the Tigers, went 1-for-2 with a single in his first at-bat. Sunday, he’s scheduled to DH against the Pirates in Bradenton.
“It felt good today,” he said. “This last week I’ve been chomping at the bit but the lines of communication with John (Farrell, the Jays manager) and the training staff have been great. The message has been clear not to push it.”
From the first day he got here, Snider has been assured by Farrell that he is the everyday left fielder. He doesn’t have to look over his shoulder to see what or who might be gaining on him. Snider doesn’t look at that as security, just more incentive to keep working hard.
“The opportunity to play every day is something I have to earn continually throughout the season,” he said. “Now, to be able to get back out on the field and get into the swing of things has been a good step.”
While there may be some frustration and disappointment at the way these last three years have played out, the time hasn’t been wasted.
“I feel like, as the experience continues and I start to see these pitchers more and more, it’s a continual chess game. But you start to understand how they want to attack you. You’ve seen their pitches, you know the movement. The more you see them it pays off in the long run.
“I feel like there have been some exploitation of my weaknesses as a hitter. I’m learning from the way guys have pitched me and the way I’ve allowed my own mechanics to stop me from adjusting.
“I’m trying to learn from all those mistakes.”
That’s an outlook that pleases GM Alex Anthopoulos.
“Travis has a maturity beyond his years,” said Anthopoulos. “I always say when I’m talking to Travis that I don’t feel like I’m talking to a 23-year-old kid.”
In his own quiet way, Snider is revelling in the club’s confidence in him, making him understand that if he goes 0-for-4 with a couple of strikeouts, he’s not going to pay for it by riding the bench the next day.
“I definitely feel more comfortable than in the past,” he said. “I don’t feel quite like a veteran because that’s something I still have to earn, but the comfort level is there.
“I enjoy competing for a job. That’s not something I take for granted. Every day I come out here, I feel I’m competing for that job. But knowing I didn’t have to rush back (from injury) just to get those extra few games under my belt was important.
“Understanding that the job is going to be there for me day in and day out, as long as I continue to earn it, is important to my peace of mind.”
Maybe that comfort level will be the key to unlocking all that long-predicted potential.