Thursday, April 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Injuries and insults hurt, but here’s how Brandon Snyder rediscovered his love for the game

PORT CHARLOTTE — Stories of perseverance are as common as free T-shirts piled up in spring training clubhouses.

The Rays have one of the best in veteran reliever Jonny Venters, still trying to make it back to the majors for the first time since 2012 after "three and a half" Tommy John surgeries. They had another in since-released Dustin McGowan, who made it back after missing nearly three full seasons with shoulder injuries and pitched with an insulin pump in his back pocket.

Without as much notoriety, there's another pretty good one in outfielder/infielder/catcher Brandon Snyder.

Not so much because of what he went through, but how he came back after nearly giving up.

Between the injuries and the insults of being released, Snyder had had enough by the start of 2015. He had played parts of four seasons in the majors after being a first-round pick by the Orioles, even won a World Series ring for his hand in Boston's 2013 championship season.

But given the frustration of spending most of 2014 at Triple-A dealing with plantar fasciitis, combined with not having a job for the next season, he was ready at age 28 to move on even though baseball was all he'd known since growing up watching his dad play.

"I started to lose a lot of love for the game," said Snyder, 31. "I started to kind of treat this like a business. I wasn't having fun doing it; it was how I was making a paycheck.

"It really tested me to go back. I told my wife I'm going to give it one more year, go play indy ball and just have fun. And then I can hang 'em up. That's it."

Which is how he ended up in Waldorf, Md., going through what passed as spring training for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the independent Atlantic League — and loving it more than he could have imagined.

"It's more like you go out on the field and if pitchers want to throw you can step in on them and if you want to take ground balls you can," he said. "I was lucky I was able to get that opportunity. … I kind of like it being so low key. I was there because I wanted to be there."

No matter that it was going to cost him money to play, or any of the other stark realities of not being with an affiliated organization.

"I just had a new appreciation for the game," Snyder said. "I loved going to the ballpark every day. … I felt really rejuvenated. It really changed my thought process, really got me back to loving the game and having fun."

Snyder played all of one game for the Crabs when he got an offer to go back to the Orioles at Double-A. "I really didn't want to leave," he said. "I was having so much fun with those guys. I didn't know if I wanted to do it again. But I was like, 'Man, I could use the insurance.' So I ended up signing back and had a great year and started to enjoy it again."

It showed. He played that season at Double A, signed with Atlanta in 2016 and split time between Triple-A and the Braves, then spent all of last season with Washington's Triple-A team. Now he signed a minor-league deal with the Rays, battling for the final spot on the roster.

Here's three more things to know about Snyder:

1. Family affair: Snyder spent his early years around fields and clubhouses as his dad, Brian, was wrapping up a 12-year pro pitching career that included stints with the Mariners (1985) and A's (1989). He has two younger brothers — twins at that — playing in the minors; Matthew, a first baseman/DH with the Yankees, and Michael, a first baseman with the Braves. And he has a first cousin, his mom's sister's son, Madison Younginer, who not only pitches in the majors but, in August 2016, got called up by the Braves, who made room on the roster by designating Snyder for assignment . "That was kind of crazy," Snyder said. "I told him he still owes be a beer for that one."

2. Draft breeze: Snyder was the 13th overall pick by the Orioles in 2005, taken ahead of future impact big-leaguers such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus and Matt Garza, and getting a $1.7 million bonus. But he never lived up to the billing, detoured by surgery to his left (non-throwing) shoulder at the end of the 2006 season that led the Orioles to move him from catcher to first base. Snyder made it to the big leagues by the end of the 2010 season, but never really got much of a chance the next year. The Orioles traded him to Texas in January 2012 for cash, and at age 25 he was shoved on to the journeyman track.

3. Mr. Versatility: A big part of Snyder's appeal to the Rays is his versatility, with the potential to play first, third and the corner outfield spots and serve as a third catcher. He welcomes the challenge, wishing he had been given the opportunity earlier in his career to be so utilitarian. As it is, he has started at all positions except shortstop and pitcher, and is quick to point out that he did pitch two innings last year for Triple-A Syracuse.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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