Sunday, March 04, 2007
A Most Compelling Fellow
Considered by Current Chicago Cubs Manager Lou Pinella as one of the finest young hitters in the game, capable of winning Batting Titles, Chris Snelling was a Top Prospect for The Seattle Mariners for the past five seasons. Yet, 10 different surgeries, seven on his left knee alone have stalled his once promising baseball career. Still only 25 years old, Chris is no longer swinging the lumber in The Pacific Northwest. Instead, number 8 is attempting to resurrect his game, competing for a job with Our Washington Nationals for the 2007 season. Snelling was acquired along with Emilaino Fruto for Jose Vidro over this past winter. A trade praised by many fans, to be a steal for Washington.
From Day One during our recent trip to Nationals Spring Training, no player The African Queen and I came across was more interesting, different, or just plain fascinating to speak to, than Chris Snelling. First, we found Snelling sitting in the Dugout introducing himself to Travis Lee, in an amusing conversation between two players that had never heard of each other.
Later, Snelling's leather & twine bound fielding glove (the same one he has used since High School) was the talk of camp. Even Manager Manny Acta got a kick out of it.
Finally, thanks to Todd Jacobson from The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, I was informed of Chris's Penchant for Yoda, The Star Wars Character. This guy was quirky. And, being from Australian made him all the more interesting. All good style points in my book. I really wanted to get to know him better. Chris Snelling is one of those athletes you could talk to for hours, and never get bored with the chat.
Fortunately, I got the chance to speak with him in The Team's Clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium.
Chris--What's the story on Yoda?
"Because I like how he thinks. I like how he talks. Yoda's got a good thing going. Its just a good luck charm that I have. My whole thing with Yoda actually got sort of given to me by a friend. And, the reason why I like Yoda is because I have been hurt (injured) a lot. There have been other times when I felt like quiting. Because, I would get healthy and then all of a sudden I would get hurt again--out another year. I like the whole thing where he (Yoda) says, ‘Try not. Do or not. There is no try.’ So, in my mind, when I was going to quit (baseball), I told myself I was really going to come back or not come back. I hate when people say ‘I am trying to come back’, or trying to this or that. Anybody can try, like ‘I am trying to get up and walk right now, and walk away from you and your question (both of us laughing). You know what I mean. Anyone can use try forever. But, you really must DO."
What the story on your glove?
“Its my glove, I love it," Snelling told me. "I am very comfortable using it. I really don't want to give it up. I just got it repaired—it needed some work."
But, is it a legal glove bound like that?
"Yeah, as far as I know. I hope you are not trying to get me in trouble." (No, I just don't recall seeing anyone use a glove repaired like that in a game before-SBF) "Its legal, I plan on using it."
Although born in Miami, Florida, where Chris's Dad was a Professional Tennis Coach on Turnbury Isle, Snelling grew up in Australia, in a town called Gorokan, a few hours north of Sydney, Australia. How different was growing up in Australia as compared to what you now know of The United States today?
“I think growing up in Australia gives you receive a whole different look at the world. Although I grew up, for a short period, in Miami, I don’t remember much. People are more laid back there (in Australia). Australians are more fans of sports, than passionate. We like our sports, but there is a whole lot more important things to do in life. Things to experience, outside of sport. And, I enjoyed those experiences. So do many Australians.”
I am a big fan of Australian Rules Football. The Carleton Magpies are my favorite team—SBF
“It’s a good game. Exciting, always moving. Its played more down south where the Victorians play it. We have the Sydney Swans. I guess its OK, if you are a Carleton Fan.” (both of us laughing)
I read where at the age of 15, you played in the Professional Australian Baseaball League?
“Yeah, its true, I learned a lot of baseball, playing regularly against some good players. I couldn’t hit worth a lick then. But, it really helped my development. There were some good quality players, although that league does not exist anymore." (Toronto Centerfielder, Vernon Wells was a teammate of Snelling’s and Los Angeles Angels Shea Hillenbrand also played in the ABL)
Yet, being from a small town, the opportunities to play baseball still had to be limited. How is it that you developed into a good contact hitter?
"My Dad was a Tennis Coach, I hit a lot of tennis balls as a child. My hand and eye coordination was good. When I started playing baseball, that practiced skill transferred over with me at the plate (batting)."
What’s the story on your knee brace you are wearing now?
“I have had seven knee surgeries and I need some help. (how long will you keep it on?--SBF) “I don’t know. I am working hard so I don’t have to. Last year I wore it for the first time, and I absolutely hated it. But, I think (the hate) was more of a mental thing. In my mind I said to myself: ‘I can’t do anything with my knee brace,’ and it held me back. I look back on it now and say that was a bad way to look at the situation. Bottom line, its helping me stay healthy. I don’t know how long I am going to wear it full time. As long as it keeps me healthy on the field playing, I will keep wearing it.”
Does your knee brace hamper your outfield play. Can you run full out? Any limitations?
“No. Physically, no. I have 100% movement and mobility. There are mental hurdles that I have with it. Last time I tore my knee, was hitting a baseball. I have never heard anyone tearing their ACL (Knee) hitting a baseball. So, there is this mental feeling: ‘Oh, anything can happen.’ But, once you get over that, test the waters, do things, and say to yourself: ‘ I did OK, that felt good, I can do that now.’ Right now, I feel like I can do everything well, and pretty much what everyone else can do and what everyone expects of me.”
If you are playing the outfield and there is a shot to the wall, will you climb the wall to attempt the catch?
“Yeah, either that or run right into it!! (Both of us laughing). I don’t know how high I can jump, but I will definitely make the play, or at least try.”
You are out of options?
"I don’t know of follow any of that stuff. Whatever people tell me. I don’t know. That’s why we have agents."
You just show up and play.
“And, that’s the best way to approach it. The only thing on my mind is winning. So much happens outside your control (as a player), The team has their way of doing business. I can only do my very best on that playing field and hopefully fit into those plans. Whatever your job is to help the team win. Everything else doesn’t really matter.”
Were you stunned to be traded to Washington?
"No, not really. It happens and it is also out of my control. But, it’s the same game playing for any team. So if I play well, I will have the opportunity. I really only want to win, each and every game. I enjoyed playing for The Mariners, but I didn’t stay healthy."
Is it odd being a a new clubhouse where you are not familiar with everybody?
“Its never easy. Change is never easy. Meeting new teammates is never easy. But, we are all here for the same things (playing baseball). So, we all have a lot of common ground already, without ever meeting."
Chris had to go off to a team meeting, so our conversation came to a too soon end. But, I found him captivating, well worth getting to know better. And, I only hope Chris Snelling can over come his injuries. I really could have talked with him all night long. He is just that compelling a figure.