Brian Snitker, a manager at ease, sets upbeat tone for Braves

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Caption
Braves manager Brian Snitker addresses about the lineup potential for his team as they prepare to start spring training in North Port, Fla.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

This much we know for sure about the Braves: After a season that was as trying as it was successful, the manager is refreshed and ready for all the variants 2021 has to offer.

Brian Snitker has looked positively radiant in his welcome-to-spring-training news conferences this week. Either that or I had some Cheeto dust on my laptop screen, hard to tell. Still confined to long-distance Zoom conferences because of COVID-19, you know. Covering spring training virtually, just like any long-distance relationship, stinks. It’s as unfulfilling as trying to celebrate Mardi Gras by mail.

“We had all hoped when we got here this spring everything would be kind of back to normal. Obviously, it isn’t,” said the over-the-internet Snitker. In the last year this guy has spent more time on camera than Kelly Ripa.

Putting aside for a moment the bitterness of a sportswriter denied the chance to soak in the sun and dine on expense-account grouper, apparently there are some plusses to this restricted style of spring training.

Snitker always heads south early. And when there, it’s dark when he gets to the park, and dark when he leaves, so really, it’s a waste of a perfectly good beach-adjacent town. If there is a baseball equivalent of a gym rat – a dugout hamster? – Snitker qualifies.

But when he arrived at the greater North Port metropolitan area Feb. 8 this year, no staffers were allowed at the spring training site for another nine days for health reasons. Nothing else to do but relax with his wife at poolside, take some nice walks, have that second cup of coffee before getting dressed and ponder for not one moment whether Freddie Freeman should hit third or fourth in the lineup.

“I get into baseball mode when I get to the park,” he said.

Pitchers, catchers and managers have now reported, and it is time to shift into baseball mode. It’s four months since almost getting to the World Series. After suffering Mookie Betts’ larceny in the outfield and Corey Seager’s pyrotechnics at the plate in the National League Championship Series vs. Los Angeles, time to get serious about becoming a Dodger dislodger.

Here’s hoping spring will afford ample time for the Braves to drill on their baserunning – remembering here the 5-2-5-2-5-6 double play Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley ran into in Game 7 of the NLCS and Marcell Ozuna departing third too quickly on a sac fly in Game 5.

No, the Braves are not the perfect team, nor have they mastered a game that has resisted conquest for better than 150 years.

And while they’re in training, perhaps it would be good also to flesh out their bench with one more reliable bat, identify another piece for a bullpen that has more interchangeable parts than Mr. Potato Head and start to nail down the role of who’s best suited to get the last out. And we just need to make sure those early 18 scoreless postseason innings Ian Anderson pitched weren’t typos.

Overall, Snitker’s team is one whose weaknesses create no glare. Oh, and look at this, more good news. Take it for what it’s worth, but the MLB Network just issued its top 100 player list, featuring two Braves in the top seven (Freeman at No. 4 and Ronald Acuna at No. 7). Five Braves in all made the list – add Ozuna at No. 37, starter Max Fried at No. 70 and second baseman Ozzie Albies at No. 72. By way of comparison nine Dodgers, six New York Mets and four Washington Nationals were included.

Little wonder then that when asked what worries him this spring, Snitker answers: “Nothing. The only thing you worry about is you want everybody to stay healthy. I don’t know that I’m worried about anything. I could, but it wouldn’t do me any good.

“It’s an exciting time right now. It’s an exciting team to come to camp with. I’m not really worried about anything.”

And when all the fellas are assembled by next week, Snitker suggests his message to the full squad will be pretty simple. Some variation on the theme of just keep your head down and keep doing what you’ve been doing.

“We are continuing to get better as a club, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “We’re not to where we want to be yet but the last three years we have continued to get better as a club.

“We’ve learned how to win, and we expect to win now, which is a good thing. We’ve got to keep that. (GM Alex Anthopoulos) has done a great job again adding to what we already have here. We’re not a finished product. We’re going to continue to get better.”

Snitker turned 65 the day before the Dodgers eliminated the Braves last season. But I do believe spring has reset his odometer again.

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