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Snider credits hot streak to maturity

Snider credits hot streak to maturity

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BOSTON -- It was like a cruel joke. When Travis Snider arrived at Fenway Park on Monday, the Red Sox had set him up with the same locker he had a year ago. The same stall where Snider sat, confused and angry after being told he was going back to the Minor Leagues.

Snider rolled his eyes when asked about that career-altering moment.

"There were a million emotions," Snider said. "It's too much to put into words. It was something I had never dealt with before from a baseball standpoint. I wasn't really mature enough to handle it, but it's probably the best thing that could've happened to me."

Last May 20, with bags to pack and a flight to catch to Las Vegas to join Toronto's Triple-A club, a stewing Snider refused to talk to reporters. On Wednesday, after packing for a trip back to Toronto, Snider smiled as he fielded questions about his role in the Blue Jays' 3-2 victory over the Red Sox.

While most of Toronto's lineup struggled to get anything done against Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, Snider came up big with a two-run home run and a run-scoring double. The performance capped off a strong road trip for Snider, who has shown signs of pulling himself out of a brutal early-season slump.

On paper, Snider's struggles over the first month this season did not look much different than his woes at the plate in 2009. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston saw an improved approach and better bat speed, though. Perhaps more importantly, Snider did not feel the same mental anguish that was prevalent early on a year ago.

"I didn't really feel lost like last year," Snider said. "I think there was a period of time [last year] where I really had no idea what was going on with my swing, and I wasn't able to make those adjustments. I looked to make excuses and blocked out the great information and resources that we have around us in this clubhouse.

"That's all part of the learning experience and growing up."

Snider admits that he was caught up in his early success in 2009 -- he hit .310 over his first 14 games and enjoyed a two-homer game in Minnesota during that stretch -- and did not listen to advice coming from Gaston or the coaching staff. That contributed to his overwhelming sense of confusion over the slump that followed.

Snider watched the bottom fall out of his batting average and the power sucked out of his bat, as he hit .193 over 18 games leading up to his demotion. This year, Snider began with a .125 average through his first 19 games, but he never panicked, did not rush to alter his swing or approach and kept an open mind when listening to hitting coach Dwayne Murphy.

"Just sticking with the same thing and staying within myself has been a big thing we've been working on," Snider said. "The cage work has been great. Batting practice has been good. It was just a matter of time before we started seeing some results on the field."

Dating back to April 29, Snider has hit .391 with six multihit games over a 13-game stretch. Over that span, the left-handed-hitting outfielder -- still just 22 years old -- has compiled three home runs, eight doubles, nine runs scored and eight RBIs. Snider's season average still rests at .232, but there has been progress.

"That just breeds confidence, and I see some confidence in him," Gaston said. "I think the biggest thing that I see in him now is they're not throwing the ball by him. He's fouling it off. Last year, they'd throw the ball right by him and it'd be 89 or 90 mph. Now, they've got to get it up there pretty high to get it by him."

Snider agreed that catching up with the fastball has played a big role in his turnaround.

"[We've been working on] having the ability to use all fields and being ready to pull that fastball when you get the chance," Snider said. "That's something that the last couple weeks has been happening more often than not. When you get that pitch, make a good swing and make sure you're ready for it."

Snider's improved mentality and attitude may partly be a product of the Blue Jays' approach with him this season as well. This was billed as a year of transition -- a season for "building" or "rebuilding," depending on who you ask -- and Snider is an integral piece within the ballclub's long-term blueprint.

The same could be said of Snider a year ago, but the Jays were in a different situation last May.

"He's got to know that he's going to get a fair shot to succeed," Gaston said. "Last year, we got off to a pretty good start and we were trying to win. When he got sent down here, [we were in first place], so we were trying to maintain that lead. We thought we had to get somebody in here to help us out."

This May, one year older and in a better place mentally, Snider accepts that.

He also appreciates the chance he is being given right now.

"I struggled early on and they showed me the confidence by keeping me here," Snider said. "That's what they told me from Day 1. Like I've said before, I'm thankful for this opportunity, and I try not to take any day that I get to be here for granted and make the most of it."

Who knows? Snider might just ask to keep using the same locker in Fenway.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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