Travis Snider is 24 years old.
It’s a fact that is hard to fathom after speaking to him for more than just a couple of minutes. It’s even harder to remember Snider’s age after mulling over his baseball career, learning about his life experiences, and listening to him speak to the hardships he’s endured both on and off the field.
But he seems relaxed, sitting in an office at the Bobby Mattick Training Complex in Dunedin, Fla. He’s waiting to answer questions about his season, his injury woes and his future; even though he thought extended spring training would be a place he could escape from the pressures of the media, being around a team and trying to get back into an everyday lineup.
It’s been a tough year for the Toronto Blue Jays 2006 first-round draft pick. After spending time with the big-league club in each of the past four seasons, he came into this spring fighting for his job in left field.
It was a battle he lost.
Snider got off to a torrid start at AAA Las Vegas, leading the team in virtually every offensive category before injuring his right wrist. He watched teammates get called up to Toronto, and saw an open spot in left field when Eric Thames joined him in the Pacific Coast League. He knew in the back of his mind where he could be right now if not for that one diving catch.
'I wish everything would have worked out when I was 20 and 21 ... but I’ve learned more about myself as a player and as a man and I think that’s going to carry me through the rest of my life.'— Travis Snider on his path to becoming a full-time major leaguer
“If you look at the last four years it’s been definitely the most challenging,” Snider said of his season. “But I don’t say the word ‘challenging’ as in, ‘Why me?’ or bad luck, that kind of thing. I’ve been through those thoughts and I’ve dealt with plenty of adversity away from baseball, but it was the baseball adversity that I wasn’t ready for.
“I’m thankful for these experiences that I’m gaining in the 20 to 24 years of age that I’ve been playing at the major league level and the triple-A level, going up and down and dealing with injuries.
“I wish everything would have worked out when I was 20 and 21 and we wouldn’t be having this interview, but at the same time I’ve learned more about myself as a player and as a man and I think that’s going to carry me through the rest of my life, whether it’s baseball or whatever I decide to do when I’m done with baseball.”
Snider began learning about himself as a player and as a man long before this season, and even prior to making his major league debut. Within a couple of years of signing at age 18, the native of Washington lost his mother and the two grandparents he had left.
This series of unfortunate circumstances forced Snider to grow up quickly. He took anger management classes and enrolled in therapy in order to help the issues that followed his tragedy.
In similar fashion, though hardly comparable, the young outfielder believes that the difficulties he’s faced on the field over the last few years have helped him mature in the game and become a better player.
“If my story can help any person that’s going through any kind of adversity in their life and they can draw some type of energy or perspective or mindset from the way that I’ve been able to handle these things, and continue to move on with what I need to do to pursue my career, I think that’s the ultimate goal,” he said.
“When you’re around young players as I am here, and you see guys that are struggling, guys that get sent down, guys that get hurt, and to be able to give back that knowledge for me is more fulfilling than having a 10-year big-league career. That’s always the goal of any baseball player is to go up there and be successful for a long time, but I think what defines a person is much more than what you do when you put on a uniform and you go play the game.”
Despite Snider’s definition, he certainly is trying to get back into a position where he can put on the Blue Jays uniform again and play.
Over the last week in Dunedin, he’s upped his workload, is taking more swings and is able to get through his work in the batting cage without any issues. He’s playing in extended spring training games and things are going well, but those games concluded on June 6 and the organization will have to make room for him elsewhere.
The big-league club doesn’t seem to be within close reach as of yet, as Snider will still have to face pitching at higher levels and continue to find comfort at the plate. But the hole in left field is apparent as the club is carrying only three outfielders and Rajai Davis has stepped out of his utility role to play every day in left field.
“I feel like that position’s always been mine and I’m the only one to blame for the struggles and, per se, losing that position,” Snider said. “But [getting back to Toronto] is always a goal. There’s no question about that.
“When I talk about a mindset and being present in the moment I understand that long-term goals are great, but when you get caught up in where you want to be instead of where you are, that’s when I personally lose track of what I need to focus on every day. So I don’t get caught up worrying myself to death.
“Obviously I know what’s going on. I know there is a spot there but it’s something I’ve got to earn and I look forward to that challenge every day that I wake up.”
While it hasn’t been easy to watch other players take ‘his’ spot in Toronto, Snider knows that when the time came for roster changes to be made, he wasn’t ready to be moved.
“There weren’t a lot of moves made while I was healthy,” he said. “The first time I came back after the wrist injury and going on the DL I knew I wasn’t ready to go. And I knew, given the situation, they were making moves and that’s the business.
“I would have been the first to say that I wasn’t ready to go, just with the pain and the challenges that I was facing from a daily work routine standpoint. I was very limited in how many swings I could take and trying to get back into game-mode was a struggle.
“That’s ultimately what led to me saying, ‘I need some more time to let this thing heal,’ and concentrate on getting healthy. …Then when the time comes I go back to wherever I go, I’m going to be ready to play.”
When he returns to full health, Snider can only hope that the spot in left field is still open to him. Should it be closed, he will look to continue to tear it up in Las Vegas and enjoy his time there, something he couldn’t say when wrestling with being demoted in the past.
“As you go through struggles and failures, I’ve learned to shift my mindset into looking at those as learning experiences,” he said. “And what I can take away from the years before this one, as well as going [to Toronto] and having success and the mindset that I’ve developed over the last couple years is to concentrate on the present moment. When I’m in Vegas, I’m playing in Vegas; my mind is in Vegas.
“In years past as a young guy you get the feeling of anxiety of wanting to move up; of wanting to be where you ultimately want to be and that’s in the big leagues, but when you lose that frame of mind of being where you’re at, it’s where you start to struggle.
“That for me has been a great learning experience over the last few years as so many things were given to me. I’ve earned a lot of things as well but a lot of opportunities were given to me and I didn’t make the most of those opportunities. But I look to learn from them, and implementing that into my game this year in Vegas is a big step for me.”
Throughout the ups and downs of Snider’s young career, Toronto fans have shown an overwhelming amount of support for the left-handed slugger. Labeled a ‘franchise guy’ early on, the Blue Jays have always been his home, despite Toronto’s depth in the outfield causing the rumour mill to run rampant about potential trades.
“When you’re a young player in an organization that has a group of young, talented players, as we do, and a lot of those guys I’ve had the pleasure of playing with in the minor leagues and developed some pretty good friendships with, you want to be a part of that,” Snider said. “People ask me, ‘What do you think about getting traded?’ and this and that, and if I can make it anywhere, I’d want it to be here, just because of the staff, the players, the minor league staff; all the people that have watched me grow up over the last six or seven years.
“To me, that’s important but at the same time understanding that things change, I’ve said it before in an interview, I understand my position in the organization is not the ‘Golden Boy,’ as I once was, but I think that’s been a great learning experience for me.
“When you have opportunities that not a lot of other people get, whether you earned them or not, I think learning from those opportunities is most important for me and not getting caught up in, ‘Am I the guy here in Toronto?’ Obviously you want to be a part of something special and I think that’s what they have here."