It was a road trip Travis Snider had been waiting for the entire season.
Snider and his Toronto Blue Jays teammates flew to Seattle on a Sunday evening last July, one day before opening a series against the Mariners. Snider, who grew up in Mill Creek and owns a home near the city, had invited some teammates over that night for a few hours of eating and hanging out, with Snider manning the barbecue and playing the amiable host.
The next night Toronto and the Mariners squared off at Safeco Field. And at that point, Snider recalls, the road trip went awry.
Because in the seventh inning of the series opener, Snider was called off the field and told that he’d been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He later went to dinner with his family to celebrate his sister’s birthday, then caught at an early flight the next morning to Chicago, where he joined his new team for a game against the Cubs.
From the moment he found out about the trade, Snider was caught up in a logistical and emotional whirlwind.
“For the next 24 hours, everything was going about a million miles a second,” Snider said. One silver lining, he went on, “was that it happened at home, so it was nice that I at least had some good people to lean on.”
But after years of wearing Blue Jays blue, “it was pretty surreal for the next week to look in the mirror and see (a Pirates uniform of) black and gold,” he said.
Snider was an elite prospect when he graduated from Jackson High School in 2006. A few days later he was selected by the Blue Jays in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft, the No. 14 pick overall. Just 18 years old when he signed his first pro contract and 20 when he reached the major leagues, his baseball future seemed rosy.
But as Snider would come to learn — frustratingly at times, painfully at others — even top prospects encounter bumps along the way.
“For me, the idea of failure at the major-league level when I was sent down (to the minors) the first time really shocked my world,” he said. “I was so confident. I had almost an untouchable feeling. I’d accomplished so many goals so quickly, and I was at the point that I’d dreamed of.
“When I got to the big leagues at 20, that was exciting for me, my family, my friends and for everybody who helped me get there. But I know now that just because you get there at 20 doesn’t mean you’re going to stay there.”
Since being promoted to Toronto in 2008, Snider has spent parts of five seasons in the big leagues. But he has also spent parts of those same five seasons in the minors, and each time the demotion has been disappointing, even discouraging.
Some of his setbacks “kind of got me off course,” Snider admitted. Because in professional sports, “there are going to be times when you fail. And there are going to be times you have to check your ego, check your attitude.
“It’s been a great learning experience for me, experiencing this failure,” he said.
Snider’s best major league season was in 2010 when he batted .255 with 14 home runs and 32 RBI in 82 games. But a slow start in 2011 got him sent to Class AAA, and he was later called up and then sent down again before a wrist injury ended his season.
He began last season at AAA before being called up in July, but then played in just 10 games for the Blue Jays prior to the trade.
As he prepares for his first spring training with the Pirates, Snider said he is “excited for the opportunity and for a fresh start as I move forward with my career. As long as I stay in Pittsburgh, I’m going to make the most of it and enjoy the time.”
When he looks back on his years in Toronto, Snider insists that he doesn’t “hold any resentments. Obviously part of me is disappointed. I wanted to make it work there. But as anybody in any business understands, there are times when your situation changes and you need to look for a better opportunity.”
Near the end of the interview, Snider was asked a rather predictable question about his goals for the coming season. He responded with a rather unpredictable answer.
What he wants, he said, “is to be happy every day when I wake up. Because that’s something I struggled with as I faced adversity in baseball.
“I’ve dealt with injuries and I’ve dealt with flat-out not playing well. So my No. 1 goal in baseball, and in my life, is to stay healthy and to go out and compete.”