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Snider appreciates playing time

Snider appreciates his time on the field

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Travis Snider sat inside a dugout, his eyes fixated on the bat firmly gripped by his thick hands. After a pair of half swings, Snider leaned the bat against the bench and moved his gaze to the field in front of him.

"It's not fun to sit here and watch everyone else prepare for the season," said Snider, Toronto's top selection in last June's First-Year Player Draft.

A tight lat muscle in Snider's back -- caused by some aggressive swings during batting practice a few days ago -- forced him to the sidelines. The injury will cost him at least a week's worth of practice and Minor League games at the Bobby Mattick Training Center.

Snider knows it could be a lot worse, though. All he has to do is think back to his sophomore year in high school to remind himself of that. A stiff back is nothing compared to what the 19-year-old outfielder went through that spring.

Back then, football was still a prominent part of Snider's life. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Snider was a running back for Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Wash., and was finishing up some drills during the final spring practice before the summer baseball season began.

"Last play of the last scrimmage on the last day," recalled Snider, shaking his head at the thought of what came next. "Camp was over and I told the coach, 'Hey, I'm going to my baseball game. I'm out.'

"He goes, 'No, you didn't get enough carries. I want to give you one more carry.'"

Snider wasn't about to refuse. After all, what harm could come from one more rushing play?

He grabbed the football, ran about 30 yards down the sideline, and was then tackled by a pair of his teammates.

"I had a guy come take out my ankle and another guy jump on my back," Snider said. "I popped up and tried to stand, and went immediately down after that."

Snider had shattered his right fibula and torn ligaments all around his ankle -- an injury that required eight screws and a metal plate to hold everything in place during his rehabilitation. As Snider rode in an ambulance on the way to a local hospital, his mind was consumed with thoughts about his future in baseball.

"The first thing I thought about was, 'Why am I out here?'" Snider said. "Football has been a passion of mine since I was a young kid, but I always knew I wanted to be a professional baseball player."

Snider sat out that entire summer and was upset that he'd miss out on playing in national showcase events, where scouts from colleges and Major League clubs would be in the stands. He was able to make it back onto a baseball diamond in October of his junior year, though not at full strength.

The timing of his return also made Snider ineligible to play football that fall. Once that happened, he decided he'd also hang up his shoulder pads during his senior year in order to focus solely on his budding baseball career.

"I think everything kind of happened for a reason," Snider said. "There's no regrets. I wish I could've played, but looking back on it now, maybe it happened for the best."

Toronto began keying in on Snider after seeing him play during a tournament in Long Beach, Calif., in the summer following his junior year. Then, as a senior at Jackson High, Snider hit .522 and used his powerful bat to help his team go 27-0 en route to a state championship and a No. 2 national ranking.

The Blue Jays then used the 14th overall pick in last summer's draft on Snider, who became the highest high school selection taken by Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi. Before Snider, the highest Ricciardi and the Jays had taken a prep star was at the 206th pick in 2002.

"We really felt, in terms of college players, the crop of the draft was quite thin," Jon Lalonde, Toronto's director of scouting, said at the time. "We wanted to give ourselves some more options there at that 14th pick. The comfort level we were able to establish with Travis as a person, as well as a player, really pushed it over the top."

Snider's first professional game with Rookie League Pulaski was exactly one month after he and Jackson High clinched the state title. The short layoff didn't slow down his bat, though.

In 54 games with Pulaski, Snider hit .325 with 11 home runs, 41 RBIs and a .567 slugging percentage. The left-handed hitter took home the Appalachian League's Player of the Year honor, and he appears to be ticketed for Class A Lansing this season.

"I certainly didn't anticipate winning the MVP, or doing some of the things I did as an individual," Snider said. "But, for me, I'm more of a perfectionist when it comes to the way I play. I don't feel like, in any situation, I should struggle throughout a whole season."

The Jays are excited about Snider's potential, but he remembers how bleak his future in baseball seemed from the back of that ambulance. That's why he still holds tightly onto a bat, even when an injury is keeping him out of a batting cage.

He reminds himself every day that everything happens for a reason.

"I'd say things worked out for the best," he said with a smile.

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

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }