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One big happy family? Not for Snitkers as father, son duel in Braves-Astros World Series

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HOUSTON — In any World Series, themes of resilience and perseverance and love will abound. You don’t navigate a 162-game season and three rounds of playoffs without them.

Yet while those concepts exist more often on a visceral level, this 2021 World Series pitting the Atlanta Braves against the Houston Astros will house a pair of shining examples – one in each dugout.

When Braves manager Brian Snitker gazes across the diamond at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night, his eye might catch a glimpse of his son, Troy, a hitting coach for the Houston Astros. And while Snitker should be consumed with where to stand during pregame introductions or the ground rules of Minute Maid Park or how, exactly, to slay a deep and powerful Astros team that’s banked 102 wins (including the postseason), he can be forgiven if his mind wanders a bit.

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In a sport increasingly given over to fast-rising whiz kids and managerial hires with no actual managerial experience, Snitker is an ode to the grinders. He was already a grandfather by the time he took over as Braves manager in May 2016; the 2021 season marks his 45th year in the organization, easily spanning all of Troy’s 32 years.

Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker, left, stands with his father, Braves manager Brian Snitker, before a spring baseball exhibition game in 2019.
Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker, left, stands with his father, Braves manager Brian Snitker, before a spring baseball exhibition game in 2019.

And so Snitker’s only son summered in locales like Macon and Durham, Sumter and Danville, just 5 years old when he befriended a prospect named Chipper Jones. He scrubbed the cleats and rode busses and got rides home from clubhouse attendants when his work was done.

And even as he saw his father dealt some gut-punch losses on the field – 1,309 of ‘em in the minors – and some soul-crushing setbacks when he was bounced back to the minors after stints with the big club, Troy took it all in and decided that this life was for him, too.

For the elder Snitker, 66, it was a quiet endorsement after decades spent away from his family while readying a never-ending parade of Braves prospects for the big leagues.

“Kind of validated the fact that maybe I did something right, the way he turned out,” Snitker said Monday, when he arrived, admittedly wide-eyed, to baseball’s grandest stage for a workout day. “He's a heck of a young man. And he does have a great work ethic, I know that.”

Snitker has never stopped working in baseball, even when it worked him over a bit.

‘The coolest thing ever’

Hired by none other than Hank Aaron, Snitker transitioned from itinerant Braves minor league catcher to do-anything instructor, be it in 20 years as a manager or roving through their many affiliates in the South. He got a taste of the good life as the Braves’ third-base coach from 2007-13. But a staff shakeup under manager Fredi Gonzalez sent Snitker back to the minors as Class AAA Gwinnett’s manager.

“I definitely think there was a point,” said Troy, “where he probably didn't think it was going to happen anymore, which makes this very special.”

When Gonzalez started the 2016 season 9-28 and was fired, Snitker was hired as the interim. And won just enough to earn the permanent job.

Two years later, he was NL Manager of the Year and Atlanta won the first of its four consecutive NL East titles. And in a particularly rare dynamic, they did so with a manager who was with the core of the team on the way up in the minors.

Yeah, they’re nearly as happy for him as they are themselves.

“Everyone that's in this room that's in the Atlanta area knows how special that man is and how hard he's worked in his life to just get to this point,” said All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman, a Brave since they drafted him in 2007. “I watched him get off the bus today when we get here for the workout.

“And it was the coolest thing ever watching Brian Snitker walk into a World Series workout day.”

Hours earlier, it was Troy Snitker perched behind the same batting cage, sunglasses wrapped around his face as he watched his charges take their hacks. The younger Snitker brings a much-desired blend of progressive hitting philosophies and an old-school demeanor to his gig, for which he was hired in the 2018 offseason.

Snitker inherited a proverbial Maserati, with the Astros coming off a 2017 World Series. In coming years, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker would be integrated into the mix and Houston would advance to five consecutive AL Championship Series.

Yet he’s hardly just rolling out the balls.

“Troy is an extremely hard worker,” said All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman. “I probably keep him too long in the cage over time. He works his tail off, and he's super smart and knowledgeable about the swing, about the human body and how it works. We hit together every day. We've become really close friends as well.

“I mean, he's the man.”

Yet it’s possible neither father nor son are the MVP of the family.

‘An absolute rock star’

Ronnie Snitker, father and son agree, will be a mess Tuesday night. Wife of Brian and mother of Troy, she’ll be with the couple’s other child, Erin, in the Minute Maid Park stands, trying, likely in vain, to split her loyalties.

Supporting her husband’s career meant bringing home an additional income as a schoolteacher while shouldering a significant portion of parenting Erin and Troy.

“She was an absolute rock star,” said Troy. “There's not many people that can stick with the professional baseball life, especially in the minor leagues. Literally right after the last day of school, she was picking us up, and we were going wherever he was. First day of spring break, we were there wherever he was.

“She would always just drop on a dime to take us to go see our dad. There were six months out of the year where we were either away or without him, and I think, if you asked both my sister and myself, we wouldn't have had it any other way. It was special the way we grew up.”

Father and son anticipate limited and perfunctory contact this week, hoping to connect later Monday before the swirl of Game 1 approaches. They smile but maintain a stubborn streak when talking about beating the other. It is competition, after all, though all the glory and gratitude won’t be confined within the white lines.

“We're so grateful,” said Troy, “he's getting this opportunity.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World Series: Brian, Troy Snitker, father and son, but now opponents

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