Snider regroups from tumultuous 2009

Snider regroups from tumultuous 2009

TORONTO -- It's a time for reflection. A time to look back on the events of the past year. That's how Travis Snider views what has become an annual offseason excursion -- a kind of mental retreat -- for his family and a handful of their closest friends.

This winter, when Snider headed to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the young Blue Jays outfielder was joined by the two friends he considers brothers -- guys he's known since their days as Little Leaguers -- along with his sister and his dad. The December trip lasted nearly two weeks, ending shortly before Christmas.

There have been about a dozen of these trips over the years. Every time, whether it came in a year defined by success or another riddled with hardships, Snider has used the time as an escape. It was the same this year, giving the promising player time to go over the ups and downs of a rocky season in Toronto.

Once again, Cabo did not disappoint.

"It was beautiful," Snider said. "We know a couple local people that have shown us some pretty cool beaches and just some absolutely gorgeous views of places you normally wouldn't see."

It might sound simple, but the retreat played a role in Snider's preparation for the coming season. More than ever, after going through some unexpected struggles last season, he needed to hone the mental side of his game. This offseason, at home in Washington state and on the beaches of Cabo, Snider thought a lot about what went right and what went wrong.

Throughout his life, Snider has heard that he acts mature for his age. Behind the scenes, that has taken a lot of work -- at times, he's sought help for anger management, stemming from a few tough personal losses, including the death of his mom, Patty, in a tragic car accident in 2007. Snider does not feel he acted as maturely as he should have last season.

"I reacted as a lot of 21-year-olds would," he said, "instead of being 'beyond my years,' as I've been told I am many times."

When Snider tasted early success on the Major League stage, quickly followed by staggering struggles in the batter's box, he had trouble figuring out what to do. Manager Cito Gaston and the coaching staff tried to help, but Snider began to feel overwhelmed with advice and information. By the end of May, Snider was sent back to Triple-A.

It was an extremely frustrating and disappointing turn of events for the budding slugger.

"For me, I'd never really experienced that kind of failure that quickly," Snider said. "From a mental standpoint, you try to prepare yourself as much as you can to deal with the negatives the same way you have off the field. But on the field, aside from a slight struggle in Double-A, I'd never really had that feeling of being lost as a hitter.

"And I wasn't allowing the people around me to help, or being willing to listen and understand what people were trying to say. Not to say everything they say is right or wrong, but there's a message that's trying to be delivered to you, and if you block it out completely, you're not allowing yourself to grow as a person."

At the time, Snider had a difficult time accepting the demotion back to the Minors. Looking back on it now, though, Snider knows it was the right decision by the Blue Jays.

"Getting sent down was probably the best thing that could've happened to me," Snider said. "When I got called back up, and even more so looking back on what I went through, it's definitely been a good opportunity for me to learn and grow as a person and as a player and come in and understand what kind of role I can hopefully fill for this organization."

The Blue Jays believe Snider can fill an important role. They selected him with the 14th overall selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft and believe he can develop into an impact hitter in the heart of the lineup. Snider climbed from Class A to the big leagues in 2008, and he only turned 22 this past Tuesday.


"What I really realized this offseason is knowledge is power. The more you allow yourself to listen vs. thinking you know what's right and wrong, the more you're going to be exposed to different ways of thinking."
-- Travis Snider

General manager Alex Anthopoulos is currently trying to establish a strong, young core of players to build around as he maps out a long-term plan for the Blue Jays. Snider is a big part of the club's blueprint and that is something he is excited about. In the short-term picture, Snider understands that he is not a lock to make the Opening Day roster.

"Why would you give somebody a spot guaranteed after last year's performance?" Snider said. "I'm a pretty realistic person when it comes to self-evaluation. That is the situation, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to compete for a spot."

Snider opened last season as the Blue Jays' primary left fielder, and he'll again be in the mix for a job in one of the corner outfield spots. His main competitors will be more experienced players in Jose Bautista, Jeremy Reed and Joey Gathright, along with any other outfielders brought into camp.

Snider knows he has to have a strong showing this spring. He also understands that he needs to show he has learned from last season's mistakes.

That includes being more open to advice from those around him. In that respect, Snider is looking forward to working with Dwayne Murphy, who was promoted to the role of full-time hitting coach earlier this winter. Prior to joining the Jays' coaching staff midway through the 2008 season, Murphy served as a roving Minor League hitting instructor.

Snider has a strong working history with Murphy and feels having him as the new hitting coach can only help him grow as a hitter.

"Murph has watched me swing now for four years," Snider said. "He has a pretty good feel for what I'm trying to accomplish every time I go into the cage and what he feels it should look like. We communicate well, and I think as a person, there's not too many people like Murph in the game. He's really easygoing about things.

"He's willing to work as hard as you want to work and he's just full of advice."

Beyond Snider's production in the batter's box, that's the type of attitude the Blue Jays are hoping to see during Spring Training. During his stint back in the Minor Leagues last season, and throughout this winter, that is something Snider thought a lot about.

"What I really realized this offseason is knowledge is power," he said. "The more you allow yourself to listen vs. thinking you know what's right and wrong, the more you're going to be exposed to different ways of thinking.

"That's important, because it's easy to have a one-track mind, as confident as we are as athletes, and forget that there are people around you to help."

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