DUNEDIN, FLA. - The new reality for Travis Snider is found here, in a training facility almost an hour from Dunedin, with maybe 40 people sitting in the temporary wooden stands watching a minor league game for free on a blistering hot Thursday afternoon.
This is the latest beginning for Snider, the wannabe big league slugger, but this is anything but permanent. “I can’t think of where I am or how many people I’m playing in front of,” said Snider. “I can’t get caught up in whether I’m playing in front of six fans or 6,000 fans. You have to go out and handle your business.
“I can’t cloud my mind. I have to perform. After all is said and done, it’s up to me to do my job.”
This has not been the best of weeks for this Blue Jays star in waiting. He got word earlier that he had lost the left field starting job in Toronto to Eric Thames, even though he was close to being the home run and RBI leader of the spring. The news was abrupt but not unexpected. From there, he was given three days to report to the minor league camp. He took those needed days to meet with his agent, talk to his father numerous times (his dad was his baseball coach), say goodbye to his friends on the big league roster, and he needed the time alone, to clear his head.
The drive past Douglas Avenue through Dunedin may be a little more than a few miles to the Jays minor league complex, but for ballplayers this is worlds apart. “I have to stay in the moment,” said Snider. “I can’t get caught with what happened and didn’t happen, with who does what or who is hurt or any of those other things.
“I’ve gone through this a few times now. It’s not so emotional for me anymore, even though I have a lot of friends there. This is a business. This is my career. I can’t get caught up in the relationships I have or guys at the major league level or any of that. I can’t allow myself to get distracted.”
Snider is just 24 years old and has already hit 28 big league home runs, knocked in more than 100 runs. At 21, he hit a home run and a double in the Blue Jays home opener. A star was supposed to be born that day. No one would have believed then what they believe now: It is three years later and we don’t know, he doesn’t know, the Jays don’t know, when his next major league at bat will come.
“I have things to work on,” said Snider. “I know what they are. I’m very happy with the way I’ve developed as an outfielder and as a baserunner. Those are great strides I’ve taken and I don’t take that for granted. Now I have to keep working on refining my swing, becoming that complete player who can change a game is my goal.”
It’s funny how so much has changed: Snider was supposed to be all power when he first came up and the rest was going to develop. The rest developed, his hitting regressed. The Jays want to turn him into a difficult out. “We’re not giving up on him in any way,” said Alex Anthopoulos, the general manager. “Just because he isn’t going to be on the team in April, doesn’t mean he isn’t going to be on the team later in the season. Very often the team you start with isn’t the team you finish with. It’s up to Travis to make the kind of adjustments we know he’s capable of making.”
Anthopoulos then went on to list the number of top prospects around baseball who developed late after promising beginnings. He sees no reason why Snider can’t be in that group.
“I’m not saying it’s been easy, it’s been hard,” said Snider. “Getting sent down the first couple of times you learn how to deal with negative emotions. You have to put them into some kind of positive focus. I can’t lose my focus. That’s when I start to drift mentally, I can’t have that.”
What he has is a support system — his father, his family, his friends, Blue Jays’ management and coaching. “Everyone of them wants to see me at the major league level,” said Snider. “I’ve gotten so many good wishes in the last few days, texts from my best friends, tweets from fans. Everyone is behind me.
“I’m a fan of other sports. I’ve seen young guys come up and have struggles and deal with adversity. I’m thankful for all the people in my life who root me on. I’m going to make them all proud of me.”