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Why you won’t find Blake Snell’s Cy Young award at his house

There’s no looking back at 2018 for the Rays ace, including — and specifically — the plaque he received as the AL’s best pitcher.
Blake Snell delivers a pitch during a game against the Orioles in September at Tropicana Field. [Times files (2018)]
Blake Snell delivers a pitch during a game against the Orioles in September at Tropicana Field. [Times files (2018)]
Published Feb. 28, 2019
Updated Mar. 1, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE — The 2018 American League Cy Young Award plaque is mounted proudly on the wall right in the front room of the house outside Seattle.

Dave Snell’s house.

Blake Snell gave it to his dad to display, in part because of the huge role he played in guiding the dynamic Rays lefty on the way to his breakthrough season. But even more so because Blake had no use for it, amid the four video-game screens, Ken Griffey Jr. painting and Felix Hernandez jersey on the walls at his place 10 miles away.

“I don’t want it,’’ Snell said. “I’m like, ‘Cool, that was 2018.’ But it’s 2019. … I don’t see any significance in looking at it.’’

Don’t get that twisted.

Winning the award, especially over bigger-name candidates he respects greatly — such as Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber — couldn’t have meant more to Snell at the time.

But now, as he made his eagerly awaited spring debut with a solid one-inning, 16-pitch outing Thursday night to start the new season, it couldn’t mean less.

“You go to my house, there’s no awards on the wall. They’re all at my dad’s house,’’ Snell said. “I don’t want to look at them. I don’t need to look at them. I don’t need to see them. That’s in the past. That’s what happened then. I’ve got to focus on what I want to do for the present as much as the future.

“That’s what motivates me. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what makes me evolve as a better pitcher every year is that I see that there is so much potential. I see how great I can really be. That’s why I get excited to play every day. That’s why I’m excited to be here, because it’s always an opportunity to get better.’’

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As much as Snell, 26, plays around — streaming his Fortnite video games nightly; bouncing around the clubhouse smashing on the ping-pong table, tossing cornhole bags, grabbing the iPad to play his tunes (Love Me, by Fia, in heavy rotation) — he stood still long enough the other day to reveal a mature perspective on handling his success.

“I just remember that I sucked two years ago and I remember how I felt and I don’t ever want to feel that way, and that’s kind of the way I carry myself,’’ Snell said. "I just know if you succeed and you buy into that, you’re going to be pretty crappy the next year because you didn’t put the work in you’re supposed to, you didn’t develop, you didn’t continue to grow.

“With my mindset being I just want to get better and believing that I just want to get better, whatever you win doesn’t matter. My whole focal point is, ‘I want to be the best me I can be.’ And by saying, 'Oh, last year was good,’ and buying into that is not going to allow me to be the best me I can be. It’s going to allow me to be really just an average player.’’

Snell wasn’t even average when he first came up as a touted prospect in 2016, and through much of 2017, which included two demotions back to the minors, before a strong 10-start finish.

And, even with the fame and glory of last season, he insists he hasn’t forgotten how miserable of a time that was.

“I remember the feelings that I felt,’’ he said. “I remember the way teammates treated me. It’s not like they treated me bad, but it was like I was letting the team down. And to feel that and go home and really just think about that, it was terrible.

“It was the worst feeling I ever felt. To be able to have all the talent, to believe in my talent, and just continue to fail and continue to have teammates look at me differently, it’s what fuels me today. Because I don’t ever want to feel that. I don’t ever want to experience that.’’

The perspective of time, and the ensuing success, has allowed Snell to find the good in all that bad, recognizing the trouble he had adjusting to finally reaching the goal of the big leagues, the trial and error along the way, needing time to sort it all out. “I just had to find my way,’’ Snell said.

He had help, of course, always making a point to thank his dad and Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who worked with him, and counseled him, as both advanced through the minors.

But ultimately it was on Snell.

“By failing and failing and failing, it just made me learn more and more and more, helped me get more comfortable, helped me get more confident with where I am today,’’ he said. “I wouldn’t be who I am without failing as much as I did. … That’s the only way I can have ’18.’’

If he doesn’t want to look admiringly at the award on his wall, he can at least look in the mirror.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampbay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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