ATLANTA – The wardrobe needed a catcher’s glove. It was the fall of 1987. A former minor league infielder named Ron Shelton was making a baseball movie at Durham Athletic Park that revolved around a journeyman wide receiver. Someone rooted around the office of the director of DAP, the one that belonged that summer to Brian Snitker, director of the Durham Bulls, the Single-A branch of the Atlanta Braves. The Wardrobe Scout hit the jackpot: Sitting there for the catch was the catcher’s glove used for years by Snitker, a former catcher who had used the glove as a catcher for the Braves’ pen in 1985.
This is how Crash Davis, the protagonist played by Kevin Costner in Durham Bull, forever on film uses Brian Snitker’s well-worn catcher’s glove.
It’s pretty much perfect poetry, because Snitker is the Crash Davis of managers. He devoted the last 45 years of his 66-year life to the Braves as a player, coach and manager at various levels, most of which involved long bus rides and disappointments.
Durham Bull rings so perfectly clear that Crash Davis is one of baseball’s most cited personalities, real or imagined. There’s a scene – on a bus, of course – in which Crash tells his teammates about the one time in his traveling career he’s made the majors.
âI was on The Show for 21 days once,â he says. âThe twenty-one happiest days of my life. You know you never handle your luggage on The Show? Someone else is carrying your luggage. It’s good. You hit white balls to practice batting. Stadiums are like cathedrals.
On October 8, the Braves, making their fourth straight playoff appearance under Snitker, lost Game 1 of the National League Division Series to Milwaukee, 2-1. The next 21 days were the best 21 days of Snitker’s life. Ses Braves are 10-3 in those three weeks, including 7-0 at home where every game seems like either an invitation for Costner to make another heartwarming baseball movie or an apology from the baseball gods for having. put Snitker through 44 years. of broken transmissions and broken hearts.
Snitker can’t do anything wrong. In Game 1 of the World Series, he lost his starting pitcher, Charlie Morton, to a broken leg in the third inningâand won. In Game 3, he shot his pitcher with a no hitter intact and only 76 pitchesâand won. On Saturday night in Game 4, he threw a relief pitcher who had never started before, followed by another later by a relief starter, followed by four more pitchersâand won again, of course, 3-2.
The Snitker Braves are the first team to win seven home games in the playoffs while scoring five points or less in each. No other team has had five of these nail biters in a single season.
His team are only the fourth to win three World Series games without a start for more than five innings, joining the 1929 A’s, 47’s Dodgers and 2002 Angels (who have four such victories) .
Atlanta is Oz. All BP baseballs are white. No one carries their own luggage. Truist Park is a cathedral where prayers are answered. And every move the manager seems to jump off the script page of a blinking Shelton. Twenty-one of the happiest days of his life later, Snitker is one victory away from winning his first World Series.
âI don’t know if I will be able to sleep,â he said.
It would be the Braves’ first World Championship since 1995, which Snitker attended but only as a guest of the team. This happened during one of his minor league purgatory missions after the three times he was demoted from the major league coaching staff. When the last one happened in 2013, he accepted the likely possibility that he would never make it in the majors.
âAnd I was okay with that,â 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 Henry Aaron four years later, although Aaron told him he was doing it because he would make a great coach and, one day, a great manager. It took him 35 years to get that big league manager job.
This year, his best 21 days included not only the NL pennant, but his son, Troy, a batting coach with the Astros, winning the AL pennant. It wasn’t until the year before that everyone lost a Game 7 LCS. On the eve of the World Series, Brian and his wife, Ronnie, had dinner with Troy. On the first day off, they gathered for a family dinner where they helped the grandchildren carve pumpkins.
âIt’s about as perfect as it gets,â says Brian.
The same could be said for the management of Snitker. He wasn’t supposed to win Game 4, not after Dylan Lee, who was making his first career start, lasted an out. It was the 24th time that a manager has withdrawn his starter after one or no withdrawal in a World Series game. The teams have lost 17 of those 23 previous matches.
With goals loaded, Snitker gave the ball to Kyle Wright, who had never inherited a runner in his major league life. Cool as the Georgia fall night, Wright quickly put out the next two hitters with a single run crossing the plate.
Every choice Snitker made worked well. Wright, Chris Martin, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith gave Houston a run in the last eight innings. The superb bullpen kept the game in check until Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler – Snitker’s forehand choice against right-hander Cristian Javier, Natch – hit back-to-back homers in the seventh for another Snitker-doodle of a victory. Soler had hit 0.180 this year against breaking right-handed throws.
How the hell does Snitker do it?
âBecause he allows us to be us,â Swanson says. âI can’t say it enough. It allows everyone to be themselves. He trusts us. He trusts us to do our preparation. He knows we are doing our job in the cage. He knows we’re doing our job when it comes to studying pitchers. He knows we’re doing our defensive job with Wash [coach Ron Washington]. He has confidence in that and allows us to go and play.
âYou know, so many times these days it’s about so many numbers, this and that. But he trusts us to go out there and do what we do. And that’s why we win everyday and that’s why we are who we are. To have the trust of someone like that is huge.
Despite all the miles traveled 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 shifts, the Braves went from dead last in using quarterbacks to No.2 in majors. . Snitker admitted he pulled Ian Anderson out after five no-hitting innings in Game 4 might not have happened two or three years ago. He went from a supporter of NL rules to universal DH.
More importantly, he licked up the toughest job a manager has in today’s game – leading an efficient reliever box without wearing out his arms. Snitker has made 58 pitching changes this playoff. Only one resulted in a loss. His relievers are 7-1.
Tonight Snitker will try to win the 45-year-long World Series title. He has been a minor league coach (19), major league coach (11), major league coach (six), minor league coach (five) and minor league player (four). Major League Baseball is all about the stars. Stars like Freddie Freeman, who is also trying to win his first World Series. The stars follow with such fervor that adults wear shirts with the player’s name on them, as if they are appropriating a residue of their success and fame.
But people like Snitker are the real mortar of baseball, with a little “b”. They take the buses and break their backs because they not only love the game, but also derive an unseen joy from providing any help to feed the dreams of the many young men who want to be the best baseball player they can be.
Tonight Snitker is fortunate to be historically famous after all these years. He will have to manage another set of pens, which should be the case. His enclosure has been fantastic.
âThat’s why we treated them well during the year,â he says. âWe barely used them three days in a row, except for Will, and he’s the closest. And if we did, we gave them two days off. We did this so that we can use them now. We did it to win these games.
Few men have given so much to one and the same organization. âWhen I see the Braves logo,â he says, âI’m moved about it. “
He gave 45 years, summers away from his family, sweaty buckets of equity and a favorite old broken catcher’s mitt. He never got that glove back from Costner.
More MLB coverage:
â¢ Pearls Before Swing: meet the man behind Joctober Bling
â¢ Soler’s shot, home run with pinch shows the value of equal to equal
â¢ Missed opportunities in Game 4 put Astros’ season on the brink
â¢ Why does MLB always allow synchronized, team-sanctioned racism in Atlanta?