The Snitkers lend World Series a joyous father-son subplot

Houston Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker, (left) poses with his father, Braves manager Brian Snitker, before a spring exhibition game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Kissimmee, Fla. No matter how this year’s World Series ends, a Snitker will get a championship ring.  (John Raoux/AP)

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Houston Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker, (left) poses with his father, Braves manager Brian Snitker, before a spring exhibition game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Kissimmee, Fla. No matter how this year’s World Series ends, a Snitker will get a championship ring. (John Raoux/AP)

Credit: AP

HOUSTON – Normally, it would be cause for some concern if only 48 hours before a World Series Game 1 your manager turned into a zombie. You really need a nimble strategist at a time like this, not a shuffling “Walking Dead” extra.

Yet here was the Braves’ Brian Snitker before leaving for Houston to begin his high-stress assignment against the Astros: “All day (Sunday) I roamed the house and was numb.”

Take heart, though, as it seems the condition was temporary. “I’m starting to get feeling back in my body and mind and everything,” Snitker said as rejoined the living and spoke to the media here Monday evening in advance of the Braves-Astros Series.

“Really, it’s just the thought that, my God, we’re in the World Series,” he explained.

Actually, there’d be more reason to worry about Snitker had he not gone into some kind of emotional concussion protocol after being kicked in the head by such a powerful combination of amazement and gratitude. He wouldn’t be human otherwise.

For the bulk of Snitker’s career, baseball had been about four decades of small blessings and large trials. His passion for the game had been almost biblically tested, the Braves lifer offered teasing glimpses of the big leagues only to be unceremoniously demoted not once, not twice, but three times. But, man, when baseball finally decided to pay off on Snitker’s devotion, it buried him in treasure. At 66, not only does Snitker finally get to manage his first World Series, but he also gets to do so while looking across the field at his son, Troy, an Astros hitting coach.

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Houston Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker watches from the dugout during the first inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Detroit. (Duane Burleson/AP)

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Houston Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker watches from the dugout during the first inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Detroit. (Duane Burleson/AP)

Credit: AP

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Houston Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker watches from the dugout during the first inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Detroit. (Duane Burleson/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The same son who grew up spending his summers cleaning up after whatever minor league circus his dad was working at the time – “I’d go home after games, and the clubhouse guy would bring him home two hours later,” Brian said. The one who was determined to follow his father’s path, but independently. He didn’t want to be a legacy, turning down the option of a job with the Braves after his own catching career fizzled much like his pop’s had back in the late 1970s.

At this point, the pride almost oozes from Brian’s pores as he speaks of a certain 32-year-old Astros hitting coach.

“I told him I can help get you in the door, but he didn’t want me to do anything,” Brian recalled. “He sent out all the letters. He taught himself Spanish. And was attracted to the Astros.

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“I’m very proud of him. He went about it the right way. He’s always been just a really hard, dedicated worker. He got his foot in the door, like a lot of us have over the years.”

Likewise, the son looks admiringly at the father, recognizing, he said, that this World Series family reunion, “wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t doing a lot of things right and if he wouldn’t have stuck out a lot of tough times.”

“Nowadays, you don’t see people sticking with it as long as he’s had, and we’re so grateful he’s getting this opportunity,” Troy said Monday.

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Brian Snitker's wife Ronnie: "Can't imagine enough this is happening to us"

Credit: WSBTV Videos

The trip from Chevy Astro van to a World Series against the Astros has to be a little numbing for all the Snitkers. It used to be – as retold in a Sports Illustrated story earlier this year – that Snitker’s wife, Ronnie, turned said van into a makeshift camper for those long summer trips when she and Troy and his sister would follow Brian through the minors. Packing boxes became tables. A small TV and a VCR became a low-tech entertainment system for the kids. “We looked like the Clampetts dragging stuff around the Southeast,” Snitker joked in that story.

Ronnie, the backbone of this team, was a teacher who bent to every whim of a baseball life. “Literally right after the last day of school, she was picking us up, and we were going wherever he was,” Troy said. “First day of spring break, we were there wherever he was. She would always just drop on a dime to take us to go see our dad.”

“There were six months out of the year where we were either away or without him, and I think, if you asked both my sister and, obviously, myself, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was special the way we grew up,” Troy said.

From 1982-2015, Brian managed at 10 minor league outposts, from Danville to Sumter; from Pearl, Miss., to Myrtle Beach. When the Braves called him up to work as a bullpen coach or bench coach, only to later dispatch him back to the minors, he never took the hint. He just kept working whatever corner he was given.

The cruelest slap came in 2013 when the Braves went looking for fall guys after getting blown out by the Dodgers in a National League Division Series and decided to put some of it on their third-base coach. Snitker was sent back to manage Triple-A Gwinnett. But his time would come three years later when the Braves needed someone to keep a seat warm after firing Fredi Gonzalez in mid-season. Finally, at 60, a major league manager. Snitker was supposed to be a temp, a good soldier filling the breach until the Braves could find some hotshot to lead them through a rebuild. But this team responded to Snitker’s common touch. It started winning. And management had little choice but to stick with Snit, as he’s informally known.

And here he is, my God, the 66-year-old World Series first-timer.

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October 25, 2021 Houston, Texas - Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker hits a ball during workout in preparation for Game 1 of baseball's World Series against Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Monday, October 25, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

October 25, 2021 Houston, Texas - Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker hits a ball during workout in preparation for Game 1 of baseball's World Series against Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Monday, October 25, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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October 25, 2021 Houston, Texas - Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker hits a ball during workout in preparation for Game 1 of baseball's World Series against Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Monday, October 25, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“I know it was a dream of his to be able to do this and be able to manage in the big leagues, and I think he always knew that he could do it, but I definitely think there was a point where he probably didn’t think it was going to happen anymore, which makes this very special,” Troy said.

Now comes the hashing out of the happy details of divided loyalties. Troy told his father he was on the hook to provide World Series tickets for family and friends. As for family wardrobe, there’s the challenge of blending clashing Braves and Astros colors for the game. “Maybe Braves jerseys, Astros hats. They’re trying to figure it out now,” Troy said.

And, yes, the numbness does wear off. By Monday night, normalcy was returning for Snitker and son. For what’s more normal and expected than the whole family going out to dinner and dad picking up the check?

Eventually, too, the competitive ardor that lured Brian and Troy to baseball in the first place has to take over.

“I know he feels that his guys have overcome so much to get to this point and are very deserving. I obviously feel the same way,” Troy said.

“Quite honestly, (Tuesday) at 7:09 or whatever, he’s going to want to kick my ass,” Brian said.

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