Travis Snider still has plenty to prove

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Travis Snider knows it doesn’t matter how well he played or who he impressed last September during his magnificent month with the Toronto Blue Jays.

He knows that everything he accomplished after being called up to the big leagues — batting .301 with two home runs and 13 RBI — merely opened a lot of eyes to his potential. What Snider must show now is that he can be a productive hitter in the big leagues for a season, not a month, despite being such a young player.

“I’m 20 years old, almost 21,” said Snider, a former Jackson High School star who lives in Scottsdale during the offseason. “I know that nothing, whether it’s life or baseball, is guaranteed.”

Snider will report to spring training in Dunedin, Fla., next month with a great chance to make the team because of his potent left-handed bat. He’s listed on the Blue Jays’ depth chart as the No. 1 left fielder but knows he must earn that job.

Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi told him at the end of last season to report to spring training ready to compete for a job.

“I’m just trying to do everything I can control and not get caught up in all the hot stove reports,” Snider said. “J.P. told me, ‘You had a good showing up here and we’re proud of the way you handled yourself, but be hungry. Come in ready to compete.’ That’s always been my attitude toward these kinds of things, and I’m just excited to have the opportunity.”

That’s not to say Snider has avoided looking at the Blue Jays’ schedule to see that they play in Seattle on July 27, 28 and 29.

“I’m realistic about my opportunity, but I believe I’ve got a chance to go out there and earn a spot on that team,” he said. “God willing, I’ll be able to stay injury free and have a good spring training. That’s all I’m really concerned about.

“But if everything works out, I’ll be able to come home and play in Safeco Field for a weekend, and maybe spend the off day (July 30) with my sister Megan on her birthday.”

Snider and his family already have done plenty of celebrating.

No day was quite like last Aug. 29, when Snider made his major league debut at Yankee Stadium.

The first person he called after learning he’d been called up was his father, Denne.

“I couldn’t get ahold of him,” Snider said. “He was in a meeting.”

So he called his sister.

“But her phone had been broken for about a week, so I couldn’t get ahold of her,” Snider said.

He called his best friend from high school, Chris Bowen, and asked him to book five airline tickets from Seattle to New York — for Snider’s father and sister, Bowen and two other friends from Jackson, Joey Petosa and Cam Nobles.

“Being at the last minute, the only things available were first-class seats, and it cost me quite a bit of money,” Snider said. “But it was worth every dollar of it.”

He wasn’t overly nervous going into the first game, but he remembers thinking a lot during the day about his first big-league at-bats against Yankees starter Carl Pavano.

“It really was exciting to be there but not as overwhelming as you might expect,” he said. His main goal, as a power hitter who knows he’ll have his share of strikeouts, was to make contact.

“I knew going into the game, before I even got to the park, that I was going to strike out at least one time,” Snider said. “Hopefully it wouldn’t be all three.”

He did strike out, in his third at-bat. The first two made for unforgettable memories.

Snider hit a soft line drive to shortstop Derek Jeter in the third inning. “I was able to take a deep breath knowing that in my first at-bat, I at least was able to make contact,” he said.

In the sixth, against Pavano again, Snider got another changeup and caught it flush, driving a ground-rule double to the deepest part of Yankee Stadium in left-center field.

“Changeup down in the zone,” he said. “God blessed me with a large frame and a little bit of strength to be able to hit pitches like that. I was able to keep my hands back and drive it to center field, and I hit it over Johnny Damon’s head.”

When Snider reached second base, Jeter congratulated him on his first major-league hit.

Snider hit his first big-league homer six days later, belting a pitch off Minnesota’s Kevin Slowey at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

He also homered at Fenway Park in Boston and finished his month in the big leagues with 22 hits in 73 at-bats, including six doubles, a .338 on-base percentage and .466 slugging percentage.

Then Snider went home to decompress from a year that began with an elbow injury during spring training and time at the Class A, AA and AAA levels before he was called up.

As much as he loves to play, Snider was thankful when the Jays decided not to send him to the Arizona Fall League for six more weeks of baseball.

“September was a lot of fun for me, but it was also a big relief when I found out I wasn’t going to play more baseball,” he said. “It was definitely a long season with a lot of travel. I lived out of a suitcase and a hotel for the last two months. I’m not complaining by any means, but when we finished it was nice to go home and relax and get my mind off baseball.”

Now, after a full offseason to improve his strength and conditioning, Snider has the hunger again.

This time, it’s for a return to the big leagues

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