The Braves informed Kazmar, who was in Chicago as a taxi-squad player, hours after Friday’s game of his call-up -- after second baseman Ozzie Albies was struck in the calf by a pitch in the game. Albies is day-to-day, and with the Braves short on depth, they turned to Kazmar, who was in his hotel room and received a phone call telling him to go see Snitker.
“That was one of the greatest moments I’ve had as a manager at all the levels,” Snitker said. “It’s amazing. It’s a book or movie waiting to happen. You go from ‘08 to 2021, you have to be kidding me. To have the perseverance, the dedication, the drive. And I was just telling guys, he’s getting better as a player. He had a crazy year two years ago before COVID hit. I know it drove him nuts last year (not playing).”
Since his brief stint with San Diego, Kazmar has assembled a long, successful minor-league career in the Padres, Mariners, Mets and Braves organizations. Kazmar, a Valdosta native, has been with Gwinnett since 2013 and holds several team records, including most games played (667), hits (620), runs (279), doubles (127), RBIs (270) and total bases (882).
Like many minor leaguers, Kazmar drew unemployment during the 2020 shutdown. It was a difficult time shrouded in uncertainty. But one year later, his bet on himself paid off. His 12-year odyssey back to the bigs is complete, no matter how brief a stay it might be.
“I think about (what drives me to continue) all the time, especially last year when COVID hit,” Kazmar said. “The best way I can say it is just the love and passion for this game. It’s all I’ve really done. It’s something I’ve done since I was four years old. Born in Braves country, it was the first jersey I ever put on. So certainly this is beyond special for me to wear the big-league uniform in an actual game today.”
Kazmar, who spends his springs in the big-league camp, had a productive exhibition season, with Snitker calling him the team’s spring MVP on multiple occasions. He hit .490/.552/.864 with three homers in 29 plate appearances.
Snitker has always spoken highly of Kazmar, whom he managed in Triple-A from 2014-16 before he became the interim manager of the big-league team. He said Kazmar is an “off-the-charts good guy, wonderful father (he has two boys), wonderful family, that’s why everybody loves him. Just an awesome person.” As a baseball player, Snitker remembered Kazmar wanted to be in the lineup every day.
“This guy is a baseball rat,” Snitker said. “Every year, when I had him in Triple-A, there’d be two or three days in July where I’d have to sit him down because I was wearing him out. It’s one of those, ‘Kaz, you didn’t sign up here to play all this.’ But he ends up being one of the most reliable, consistent, better players on your team every year.
“He’s the perfect guy right now for where we’re at. We need some versatility with Ozzie being dinged and whatnot. Kazmar can play really anywhere on the diamond. He’s a good fit for us right now with the situation we’re in.”
Kazmar spoke glowingly of Snitker, too. “He’s a guy who’s always had my back,” Kazmar said. “I’d do anything for him. Anything he asks me to do, I’m willing to do. Just to have that support system, Snit and this amazing staff that’s here right now, how fired up they were, was pretty neat to see.”
In the end, Kazmar’s story is an inspiration. His persistence, faith and commitment was rewarded. Against the odds, he became an Atlanta Brave in 2021.
“Obviously, when I first started this career, it wasn’t, ‘I want to play in Triple-A my whole career,’” Kazmar said. “But that’s how it ended up. At the same time, I’d do it all over again for a day like today.”