Reflecting on opportunity, Braves lifer Snitker grateful

Reflecting on opportunity, Braves lifer Snitker grateful

ATLANTA -- Forty seasons have passed without Brian Snitker knowing what it feels like not to be a proud member of the Braves organization. He has served as a player, coach, manager, husband, father and friend while having the unique experience of living a long baseball life with just one employer.

Even if Snitker hadn't recently been named the Braves' manager for the 2017 season, he would have had plenty of reasons to celebrate when he and his family gather this week to celebrate Thanksgiving. But he'll certainly feel a little extra gratitude as he reminisces and continues to appreciate an unexpected opportunity to become a Major League manager.

"I'm very blessed," Snitker said. "A year ago today, I never could have expected to experience this. It's been quite a year. I feel very grateful to have had this opportunity, because there aren't a lot of guys who have had a chance to do this."

Because Snitker's house sold much sooner than expected last winter, he and his wife, Ronnie, temporarily transitioned to his daughter Erin's residence in Gwinnett County, Ga., with the plan of buying a new home soon after he would return from Spring Training to resume his duties as Triple-A Gwinnett's manager. The comfort they found living in the basement of Erin's house was enhanced by the chance to spend more time with their twin grandsons, Luke and Jude, who are now 18 months old.

Everything was going according to plan until May 15, when Snitker sat down for dinner and received a call asking him to replace Fredi Gonzalez as Atlanta's manager. The 61-year-old Snitker, a loyal member of the Braves organization, traveled to Pittsburgh two days later and was introduced as a big league manager for the first time.

Snitker's previous experiences as a member of Atlanta's coaching staff had enabled him to watch Bobby Cox complete his managerial duties in what looked like an effortless manner. But as Snitker attempted to alter the mood of a team that had lost 28 of 37 under Gonzalez, he found the challenge enhanced by the fact that the front office, players and media demanded much more of him than they had during any of the 19 seasons he'd spent as a Minor League manager in the Braves system.

"It was a struggle at first," Snitker said. "Everybody was asking if I was enjoying it, and I would say, 'I don't know, because it's a real challenge.' But that's what made it so special, to see how we finished and to see those players go out and give it all they had every day."

After the Braves won 20 of their final 30 games, including 12 of their last 14, they listened to the requests made by Freddie Freeman and other players who wanted Snitker to return as their manager for 2017. That wish was granted on Oct. 11.

"I was truthful with [Braves general manager John Coppolella] when I told him if I didn't get the job, then I wanted to be right there helping the guy who did," Snitker said. "At my age and after all of my years here, I didn't want to walk away. I want to be here to see this through to completion."

Dating back to 1977, when he began his pro playing career, and 1980, when Hank Aaron gave him his first Minor League coaching job, Snitker has been an influential member of the organization. He has also simultaneously served as a loving husband and a proud father to Erin and Troy, who briefly played in Atlanta's system.

Before earning the job, Snitker never dwelled on the possibility of becoming Atlanta's manager, and he certainly never dreamed of doing so while living in his daughter's basement. But the unanticipated turn of events added to the splendor of this past year and provided him even more reason to be thankful for the 40 seasons he has spent with the Braves.

"It's never been hard for me to say fond things about the Braves," Snitker said. "This organization has been so great to me and my family. It's always felt like a family."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.