ATLANTA – The closet needed a catcher’s glove. It was the fall of 1987. A former minor league infielder named Ron Shelton was filming a baseball movie at Durham Athletic Park that revolved around an official catcher. Someone poked at the DAP manager’s office, the one that that summer belonged to Brian Snitker, manager of the Durham Bulls, Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. The scout took the jackpot: Sitting there to drink was the catcher’s glove worn for years by Snitker, a former catcher who had used the glove as a bullpen catcher for the Braves in 1985.
Then it happened that Crash Davis, the protagonist played by Kevin Costner in Bull Durham, forever on film wears Brian Snitker’s worn catcher’s glove.
That’s perfect poetry, because Snitker is the Crash Davis of managers. He has given the last 45 years of his 66-year life to the Braves as a player, coach and manager on various levels, most of which involve long bus rides and disappointments.
Bull Durham It sounds so perfectly clear that Crash Davis is one of the most quotable personalities in baseball, real or imagined. There is a scene, on a bus, of course, where Crash tells his teammates about the only time in his traveling career that he made it to the majors.
“I was on The Show for 21 days once,” he says. “Twenty-one wonderful days of my life. You know you never handle your luggage on The Show? Someone else carry your bags. It’s great. Hit white balls for batting practice. Baseball stadiums are like cathedrals. “
On October 8, the Braves, making their fourth consecutive postseason appearance with Snitker, lost Game 1 of the National League Division Series to Milwaukee, 2-1. The next 21 days have been the best 21 days of Snitker’s life. His Braves are 10-3 these three weeks, including 7-0 at home, in which each game appears to be either an invitation for Costner to make another feel-good baseball movie or an apology from the baseball gods for making. for Snitker to spend 44 years. Of broken transmissions and broken hearts.
Snitker can’t be wrong. In Game 1 of the World Series, he lost his starting pitcher, Charlie Morton, to a broken leg in the third inning.and won. In Game 3, he served his pitcher with an intact no-hitter and just 76 pitches.and won. Saturday night in Game 4, he started with a relief pitcher who had never started before, followed by an out later by a starter used in relief, followed by four more pitchers—and won again, of course, 3–2.
Snitker’s Braves are the first team to win seven postseason home games and score five or fewer runs in each. No other team had five of those biting their nails in a postseason.
His team is only the fourth to win three World Series games without a starter that lasted more than five innings, joining the 1929 Athletics, the ’47 Dodgers and the 2002 Angels (who had four such wins in a short start).
Atlanta is Oz. All BP baseballs are white. Nobody carries their own luggage. Truist Park is a cathedral where prayers are answered. And every move the manager makes seems to jump off the script page of a Shelton winking. After 21 of the best days of his life, Snitker is one win away from winning his first World Series.
“I don’t know if I will be able to sleep,” he says.
It would be the Braves’ first world championship since 1995, one that Snitker attended but only as a team guest. It happened during one of his minor league assignments from purgatory after three times he was demoted from the major league coaching staff. When the last one happened in 2013, he accepted the likely possibility that it would never be administered in the majors.
“And I agreed with that,” he says. “Every time they sent me, I knew I had done a good job.”
He signed with the Braves in 1977 and was cut by Hank Aaron four years later, although Aaron told him he was doing it because he would be a great coach and, someday, a great coach. It took him 35 years to land that major league manager job.
This year, his best 21 days included not only the National League pennant, but also his son, Troy, a hitting coach with the Astros, winning the American League pennant. It was only the year before that they each lost an LCS Game 7. On the eve of this World Series, Brian and his wife, Ronnie, had dinner with Troy. On the first day off, they got together for a family dinner where they helped the grandchildren carve pumpkins.
“It’s been as perfect as you can get,” says Brian.
The same could be said for Snitker’s management. He wasn’t supposed to win Game 4, not after Dylan Lee, making his first career start, lasted one out. It was the 24th time a manager took out his starter after one or no outs in a World Series game. Teams lost 17 of those 23 previous games.
With the bases loaded, Snitker gave the ball to Kyle Wright, who had never inherited a running back in his life in the majors. Cool as Georgia’s fall night, Wright quickly retired the next two batters with just one run across the plate.
Every choice Snitker made worked out well. Wright, Chris Martin, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith allowed Houston one run in the last eight innings. The superb bullpen kept the game under control until Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler – Snitker’s emerging right-hander against right-hander Cristian Javier, natch – hit back-to-back home runs in the seventh inning for another Snitker win. Soler had hit .180 this year against right-handed break pitches.
How the heck does Snitker do it?
“Because he lets us be ourselves,” says Swanson. “I cannot say it enough. Let each boy be himself. Trust us. He trusts us to do our homework. He knows we do our job in the cage. He knows we do our thing when it comes to studying pitchers. He knows we do our defensive work with Wash. [coach Ron Washington]. He trusts that and allows us to go play.
“You know, so many times in this day and age, it’s so much about numbers, this and that. But trust us to go out and do what we do. And that’s why we win every day and that’s why we are who we are. To have the confidence of someone like that is huge. “
Despite all the miles logged on the buses, Snitker is a modern manager. When general manager Alex Anthopoulos said in mid-May that he wanted the Braves to start using more defensive changes, the Braves went from last in the use of turns to No. 2 in the majors. Snitker admitted that his throwing from Ian Anderson after five no-hitter innings in Game 4 might not have happened two or three years ago. He has gone from being a defender of the National League rules to universal DH.
Most important of all, he has overcome the most difficult task a manager has in today’s game: running an efficient bullpen without wearing down his arms. Snitker has made 58 pitching changes this postseason. Only one has resulted in a loss. His relievers are 7-1.
Tonight, Snitker will attempt to seize that World Series title that has been in the making for 45 years. He has been a minor league coach (19 years), a major league coach (11), a major league coach (six), a minor league coach (five), and a minor league player (four). Major League Baseball is all about stars. Stars like Freddie Freeman, who is also trying to win his first World Series. The star people follow with such fervor that adults wear jerseys with the player’s name on it, as if appropriating a residue of his success and fame for themselves.
But people like Snitker are the true mortar of baseball, with a little “b.” They ride the buses and break their backs because not only do they love the game, but they also get an invisible joy in providing the slightest bit of help to fuel the dreams of the many young people who want to be the best ball players that they can be.
Tonight, Snitker has a chance to be historically famous after all these years. He’ll have to handle another bullpen game, which is how it should be. His bullpen has been fantastic.
“That’s why we treat them well throughout the year,” he says. “We only used them three days in a row except for Will, and he’s the closer. And if we did, we gave them two days off. We made it so we can use them now. We did it to win these games. “
Few men have given so much to a single organization. “When I see the Braves logo,” he says, “I get excited.”
He’s given 45 years, summers away from his family, buckets of sweat and a favorite broken catcher’s glove. He never got that glove back from Costner.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.