By David Krueger Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Travis Snider is back home in the Northwest.
And he’s making his Pittsburgh teammates feel right at home, too.
The 2006 Jackson High School grad returned to Seattle with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who take on his hometown Seattle Mariners in a two-game series. The former Timberwolf had some of his Pirates teammates over to his Mill Creek home on Monday for a family-style barbeque as he welcomed them to the area where he grew up.
“It’s a blessing being here, and having an off day I got to have a bunch of the guys from the team over and barbeque with some friends and family. Just take a day to relax,” Snider said. “I still have my roots here and a lot of friends and family. It’s always nice to come back home.”
Snider was a star at Jackson High School where he led the Timberwolves to a state championship during his senior season in 2006. The 25-year-old was named The Herald’s All-Area Baseball Player of the Year and Man of the Year in Sports in 2006, as well as the Gatorade Washington baseball player of the year before he was drafted No. 14 overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in the Major League Baseball draft.
Now that he’s back in Washington, he’s showing his Pittsburgh teammates that he can do more than just handle a bat.
He can also handle a grill.
“He showed he had a real hidden talent in cooking. He was awesome,” said Duke Welker, a pitcher for the Pirates who grew up in Woodinville. “The food was really good. Snider’s such a great guy. He just welcomed us in. A lot of his family was there and it was a lot of fun.”
Snider’s barbeque left a great impression on his teammates — and manager.
“He just threw a big steak party the other night that the guys are still talking about,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “… He had everybody over to his house and he cooked for everybody and I think it was a real big hit.”
It’s been almost 11 months since Snider was traded to the Pirates midway through a game between his former club, the Blue Jays, and his hometown Mariners on July 30. In the sixth inning as Snider was warming up in the outfield, he was recalled to the dugout where he got some surprising news. He had been traded to Pittsburgh for pitcher Brad Lincoln.
“I was warming up in left field and they just called me off the field in the middle of the game. I thought maybe our manager had made a lineup mistake,” Snider said. “But there was a cell phone waiting at the bottom of the stairs saying I got traded and the next day I was in a Pirate uniform at Wrigley Field and I haven’t looked back.”
Initially, it was a feeling of disbelief for Snider, who had spent the first six years of his career in the Toronto organization where he had made a lot of friends while playing the game he loved. He was very complimentary of the Blue Jays, while saying a fun clubhouse in Pittsburgh has helped make the adjustment a bit easier.
“That initial feeling is a bit of shock. Everything happens really fast and you look to adjust as quickly as possible,” Snider said. “But having an offseason now and going through spring training with these guys, I’m definitely feeling more comfortable in my surroundings. … Transitioning to a new team with a great group of guys and what we have now in this clubhouse every single day makes it a real pleasure.”
In his first full season as a Pirate, Snider is hitting .238 with 22 RBI, 23 runs scored, 20 walks and three home runs. He has been used in a variety of roles, from everyday player to pinch hitter over the course of the season.
“On the field, I think Travis has worked to probably his most comfortable spot in a while,” Hurdle said. “The guys here have embraced him. His style of play fits. He’s a hard-nosed kid. There have been times of a lot more offensive consistency than maybe he’s experienced in the past. That’s still been a challenge. Defensively, he’s played very, very well for us in right field.”
Hurdle said that Snider’s quick trip to the major leagues — he made his MLB debut in August of 2008 after just 18 games at Class AAA Syracuse — may have contributed to some past offensive struggles. But the manager remains confident that the tools are there for Snider to be a productive starter in the big leagues.
“We want him to be the best hitter that he can be,” Hurdle said. “… We’ve just tried to help him find freedom at the plate and get his swing back. It’s a very powerful swing. It’s a good hitter’s swing with power.
“He’s still learning. He’s still growing. He’s a guy that I think we’re glad we have on our team.”
Snider said the transition from the American League to the National League has been the biggest difference between being a member of the Blue Jays and the Pirates. Even on days where he isn’t in the starting lineup, Snider is ready to be called into action in the always-strategic N.L.
“If I’m not starting, I expect to be in there at some point during the game, whether as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement. It’s a little bit more exciting over here,” Snider said. “We’re playing in an American League park now, so the rules are a little bit different, but for the most part you come in here expecting to get in the game in some fashion and try to contribute on a daily basis.”
Snider is enjoying life as a Pirate, being on a younger team that was just behind St. Louis in the NL’s Central Division. He said the young core group of players in Pittsburgh, coupled with a mix of some veterans and rookies, has made his second major league ball club a lot of fun to be a part of.
“The way these guys pull for each other whether you’re in the lineup or somebody’s in your spot, you always look for everybody to come up and deliver,” Snider said. “We have a number of guys in this clubhouse that have come through in big situations for us throughout the year to put us in this position. Being able to come to work each and every day and put a uniform on and play side-by-side with these guys has been nothing but a blessing.”
This week Snider returned to his old stomping grounds with his team, and made them feel welcome in the Pacific Northwest. He also showed off a new talent that could prompt a new career venture as a restaurant owner once Snider decides to retire from Major League Baseball.
“He can,” Welker said. “It was that good.”