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Originally published Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

Mill Creek's Travis Snider grows up fast in life and baseball

Travis Snider, at age 20, is a baseball prodigy, no question. A superstar-in-waiting with the Toronto Blue Jays. The No. 11 prospect in all...

Seattle Times baseball reporter

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Travis Snider, at age 20, is a baseball prodigy, no question.

A superstar-in-waiting with the Toronto Blue Jays. The No. 11 prospect in all of baseball, according to the latest Baseball America rankings. Perhaps the next Grady Sizemore, with whom he shares an agent (Joe Urbon), a Snohomish County upbringing and, just maybe, an All-Star future.

Snider, who is in his first major-league camp, has had brilliant showings at every level of his professional career since the Jays made him the 14th overall pick out of Mill Creek's Jackson High School in the 2006 draft. Though expected to start the 2008 season at Class A, he is on the fast track to the majors, and could arrive by next season, or sooner.

But when Jays officials rave about Snider's maturity and presence, as they did, eagerly, on Tuesday, they are speaking about far more than his accelerated baseball progress.

"As far as the physical attributes, he's going to be a very good hitter," said Blue Jays general manger J.P. Ricciardi. "But it's really the mental stuff that separates Travis. He's been through some tough things. You talk about a young kid that gets it — he gets it."

But Snider's enlightenment has come in incredibly heartbreaking fashion. In a two-year span, Snider has lost a grandfather and grandmother with whom he enjoyed a close relationship. A close friend and one of his youth coaches have also died in recent years.

And then, last Sept. 9, came the greatest blow of them all: Snyder's mother, Patty, who had battled through an excruciating health crisis — she lapsed into a two-week coma in 2002 that led to major liver problems and jolted 14-year-old Travis into accelerated adulthood — died in a car accident on the Mukilteo Speedway.

Snider clings to the solace of having been able to reconnect with his mom before she died. He had returned to Mill Creek just days earlier following the conclusion of his highly successful second pro season, in which he hit .313 with 16 home runs and 93 runs batted in for the Class A Lansing Lugnuts.

"I was able to spend a couple of days with her before she passed away," Snider said Tuesday, taking a pause from a long day that included early hitting in the cage, an intrasquad game and an arduous weight workout.

"I definitely don't take that for granted. She was able to come out to the Midwest League All-Star Game and see her son play in a pro all-star game.

"Obviously, my dream was to have both parents there at my first big-league game. But I know she's up there with my grandma and grandpa and friends and coaches that have passed on before me, looking down on me. I take them to heart every day before I step on the field."

Snider makes such utterances with a sincerity that moves them past sappiness, straight into the realm of poignancy.

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He may, in fact, be the most self-actualized young player I've ever encountered, and it's no accident. Snider has worked as hard on himself as he has on his game.

When his mother went through the ordeal of her coma, which followed a seemingly routine bout of pneumonia, it disrupted the lives of the entire family, including father Denne and sister Megan. Patty Snyder needed months of rehabilitation to deal with memory issues, and to top things off, she and Denne divorced.

Travis began having anger issues, and underwent anger-management counseling. And after his mother died, he has availed himself of counseling offered by the Blue Jays through their employee assistance program.

"Not to say I have a mental problem, but I've struggled with anger-management problems since I was a kid," he said. "What I've gone through has only caused more emotion, and more things bottled up inside of me.

"I've learned to curb those into as much positive as possible. I still have my moments, and I'm going to continue to have those moments. But when it comes to just baseball and everyday life, I feel like, even with what I've gone through in the last couple of years, losing a lot of people, I'm at the point right now where I'm the happiest and most content, not only career-wise, but the person I am."

Snider, a rock-solid 6 feet 2, 220 pounds after five weeks training in Arizona this winter, is grateful to the Blue Jays for helping him use baseball as additional therapy following his mother's death. After a mourning period, Snider threw himself into preparing for 2008.

"I talked to Dickie Scott, our farm director, and said, 'Look, we have to really insulate this kid,' " Ricciardi said. "We took him to instructional league and then the Arizona Fall League. We just wanted to keep him moving."

The Arizona Fall League is a fast-track November league for elite prospects, and Snider, a power-hitting outfielder, was dominant. In 26 games with the Scottsdale Scorpions, he hit .316 with four homers, 11 RBI, a .404 on-base percentage and a .541 slugging percentage.

One final business of closure remained. Following the AFL season, Travis and his sister, along with some close friends, vacationed in Cabo San Lucas in the family's time-share, site of numerous family trips.

"It was a good time for me to relax and recap what I've gone through over the last year," he said. "To think things through instead of just burying what you go through. You have to understand why you feel the way you do."

Most baseball players give lip service to "keeping the game in perspective," but Snider might be one of the few who really does.

As he proceeds forward with a career that hints of greatness, he seems uniquely prepared to handle any and all potential adversity along the way. As Snider put it, what's a four-strikeout game after what he has endured?

"It's a long season, a long life ahead of me," he said. "To allow yourself to get caught up in failure that intensely ... Obviously, I'm not going to be happy when I make an out. That's the nature of the beast, the nature of me. I'm a competitive guy.

"But really, in the whole scheme of things, it's not that big."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

UPDATE - 10:00 PM
Larry Stone: Young pitcher Michael Pineda offers glimpse of exciting future for Mariners

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