Travis SniderPersonal tragedies mature young outfielder
By Michael Sanserino Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Throughout a 162-game season, even the best baseball players deal with a lot of loss. And as the stakes grow higher, so does the impact of those defeats.
There are hard losses. Painful losses. Devastating losses.
Travis Snider knows too well the meaning of all three. And they have nothing to do with any game he has played on a field.
His mother, Patty, died in a car accident when Snider was 19. In the two years before that, Snider grieved over the death of two grandparents, who played a vital role in his childhood. In the past few years, Snider has coped with the deaths of a summer league baseball coach, a family friend and two high school football teammates.
"Him having to go through things, with my mom passing away, it's forced him to grow up and realize what loss is," said Snider's sister, Megan Hull. "He's the most mature 25-year-old I know."
Through it all, Snider has gained a sense of perspective that even those who have played the game for more than a decade hope to grasp. And it has allowed him to enjoy his successes and embrace each moment, though he needed a lot of support to find that acceptance.
"Nobody understands death," Snider's father, Denne Snider, said. "Especially if it's an early death."
Travis Snider remembers being an angry child.
He remembers kicking down a door when he was 8. He remembers vicious arguments with his older sister. He remembers lashing out when playing sports, whether it was Little League baseball, youth soccer, basketball or football.
"I didn't play well in the sandbox," he said.
When he was a freshman in high school, he discovered his mother unconscious on the bathroom floor, the result of a liver illness. She was in a coma for two weeks, and the stress of the incident stoked the anger issues in Snider that he had been dealing with since his early childhood.
"Neither of us wanted to leave the hospital," his sister recalled. "You could see it in his eyes, he didn't really know what to do. I was worried about him being my younger brother. He never showed a significant amount of emotion."
His mother's illness proved taxing on the family. She physically recovered, but suffered from memory loss. His parents divorced, though Denne continued to support the family by taking on an extra job to help with the growing medical bills.
After the episode, Snider, who grew up near Seattle, sought counseling for anger management. He continued counseling through his first several years as a professional baseball player in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
While the Blue Jays helped Snider cope off the field, he found respite in his time on the diamond.
As a child, he was always one of the best players on the field. He was a first-round draft pick out of high school and quickly soared through the professional ranks. He made his major league debut at 20 and was eventually named the sixth-best prospect in any organization by Baseball America.
"Baseball was an outlet for me," Snider said.
But even baseball presented its challenges. Snider said his experiences with personal adversity did not prepare him for professional adversity. After a dazzling debut as a September call-up in 2008, Snider couldn't find any consistency in the majors in the following years. He didn't take it well when the Blue Jays optioned him to the minor leagues.
"It took a few years for me to mature through those experiences to be able to refocus and change the lens to the way I approached the game and life as a whole," he said.
Snider is off to a strong start this season, his first full season with the Pirates after being acquired at the trade deadline in 2012. He is hitting .274 and last week crushed his first home run of the season -- a mammoth, 458-foot homer at PNC Park that bounced into the Allegheny River. It was a welcomed display of power from a player that once won a minor league home run derby but has so far been unable to find that stroke in the major leagues.
As he used his life experiences to learn to deal with the challenges of baseball, the sport was there for him in those times when his life seemed to be crumbling around him.
"I'm blessed to have a number of second mothers and really positive influences in my life, whether they're family -- blood family and baseball family -- and the community I come from back home," he said.
They help to ease the pain in those moments, good or bad, he still wants to talk to his mom.
More recently, he has been emboldened by his Christian faith. He takes part in regular Bible studies with his father, uncles and cousins, a routine they try to keep even with Snider's hectic schedule as a major league outfielder.
"I think he has serenity in his life now that he's never had before," Denne Snider said.
Travis Snider could not control what happened in his life. But he could control his reaction to it. He did not grow bitter. He grew stronger. He overcame anger and found peace.
"It's easy to fall into that trap of feeling sorry for yourself or allowing the feelings of sorrow to overcome what the focus needs to be," he said. "I have great memories of baseball and life spent with my mother and the number of friends and family that have passed away in the last five or 10 years."