Before he was Brian Snitker, reigning National League manager of the year, he was among the legion of good soldiers serving a sometimes ungrateful game.
Much of his career read like a bad Southern bus tour: Durham; Sumter; Myrtle Beach; Greenville; Richmond; Pearl, Miss. He got elevated — brought up to the big club to man the third base box. He got the shaft — scapegoated and demoted back to the minors. Finally, he moved into the nice new manager’s office at the Braves nice new ballpark in Cobb, the original tenant.
The long sweep of Snitker’s career — the good and the bad, the thrill and the drudgery – took on another layer of meaning Monday in an otherwise routine spring game between the Braves and the Houston Astros. For the first time he watched his son, Troy, at work across the way as a major league coach. A chip off the ol’ bat.
“I’m really proud of him. It’s a great opportunity for him. As a father, it’s special,” Brian said.
“It’s special and different when you come over and know so many people on the other side. I’ve worn that (Braves) uniform since I was four,” Troy said.
“It’s definitely different looking across the field, when I’m on the top step seeing him on the other top step,” he added.
This offseason, at the tender age of 29, Troy, a Braves draftee with a brief minor league playing career, was promoted to role of one of two Astros hitting coaches. He got to the bigs as a coach long before he would have ever arrived as a player, even if his own bat had shown more life (he hit .226 in two seasons).
“He was probably like me as a hitter — challenged. He inherited that, and foot speed,” laughed Brian. You see, when you’re peers in baseball, you bust each other’s chops.
There had been other spring encounters between father and son.
As a Braves minor leaguer, Troy had gotten in a couple swings when dad was the team’s third base coach. Troy counts as one of his favorite memories, “playing in a big league spring training game, being in the box and being able to look down and see (his father) at third base — before I hit into a double play.” Self-depreciation is another Snitker trait.
Last year, while serving as an Astros minor league hitting coach, Troy was with the team in spring and even exchanged lineup cards with his father at home plate before the first pitch. They kept that same engagement Monday.
This time, though, they were together as major leaguers. And, if his father wasn’t outwardly proud of his son’s rapid rise to a position on a team that has won 204 games and one World Series the last two seasons, there’d have been reason to hospitalize him.
Explaining his boy’s success, Snitker pointed to, “the hard work, the dedication, his people skills.
“He’s a good blend of the new-age analytics and was raised in the old-school ways of doing things. He’s young enough and bright enough that he embraces the new analytical age and he gets that. It makes him even more that much of an asset to a team.
“I think he’s one of those guys who understands how hard this game is.”
There is no doubt that having baseball as a nanny was beneficial in putting Troy on the fast track. One of two Snitker children — his sister is Erin — Troy grew up at the park. As a youngster, he’d take grounders from former Braves second baseman Glenn Hubbard. He’d tag along on minor league bus rides, playing cards in the back when he was old enough. When the minor leaguers would go out for lunch, they’d grab the Snitker kid and take him along, a part of the team.
Along the way, he absorbed the lessons of his father.
“Ever since I started coming to the field with him when I was four, I was always around, I was always watching,” Troy said. “There were so many experiences and lessons. I saw how he handled himself and dealt with the players and the coaches and how he treated people. That was the biggest takeaway for me, being able to be there day-in and day-out and see how he did it all.
“It was special to be able to do it 15-20 years before (actually getting into the profession). That had a big impact on why I was able to get here at a younger age.”
When the Braves were in Miami for a game in 2011, Eddie Perez rushed up to Brian exclaiming, “We got him! We got him!” The team had taken Troy, a catcher, like his old man, in the 19th round. His playing career — complicated by a serious concussion — was a brief one, never rising above Single-A.
As Troy weighed the option of continuing on as a coach, his father might have stepped in with the cautionary tales of his own career. But Brian never felt the need.
“I think he knows (how tough it can be). He lived it,” Brian said. “He saw what I went through, what our family had to deal with. I’m the one thinking, oh, I’m missing a lot of stuff (at-home life). I don’t think our kids would change a thing. They liked chasing me around the southeast, the relationships they made, the interaction with adults. The things they experienced was good for them in their growth.”
There have been good days and bad days in Brian Snitker’s baseball life. Sharing a field with a son who was, by his presence, telling his father, “I want to do what you have always done, come what may,” has to be one of the really good times.
“I told (Astros manager AJ Hinch), he can’t help it. I raised him on a baseball field, a clubhouse, a bus. I’m probably to blame, because he doesn’t know any better than to do the baseball thing,” Brian said.
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