From One Grinder to Another, Braves Manager Brian Snitker Is Sean Kazmar’s Biggest Fan

From One Grinder to Another, Braves Manager Brian Snitker Is Sean Kazmar’s Biggest Fan

Having spent long stints in the minors, Brian Snitker knows a thing or two about waiting his turn, which is why he was one of those most excited about Sean Kazmar’s call-up.

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Let’s assume that the person who most enjoyed Sean Kazmar Jr.’s call-up last week was Sean Kazmar Jr. After a 19-game stint with the Padres in 2008, Kazmar had spent nearly 13 years playing every position but catcher, waiting for another shot. So, No. 1: the 36-year-old Kazmar.

No. 2 was surely Sean’s wife, Jennifer, who left her job as an elementary school principal to work remotely in academia so she could be more present for their two kids, four-year-old Sean III and 18-month-old Jackson. Next was probably Sean’s parents and grandparents.

But first among people not related to him was his manager, Braves skipper Brian Snitker.

“There’s no doubt,” says Snitker, 65. “It meant a lot to me. I mean, it was one of the greatest moments of my managerial career, because you’re talking about one grinder to another.”

This is Snitker’s 45th season in the Atlanta organization. He signed as an undrafted free agent in 1977 and in four years never made it closer to the majors than six games at Triple A. Over the next three decades, he coached and managed at every level of the system, almost always watching as someone else filled openings on the major league staff. He was Braves bullpen coach in ’85 and from ’88 through ’90 but was back in the minors until the team called him up to coach third base in 2007. (He didn’t want to overshadow Kazmar’s moment, but he did some quick math and realized that his 17-year gap between big league appearances actually outlasted Kazmar’s.)

After his debut, Kazmar spent four seasons in the Padres’, Mariners’ and Mets’ organizations before signing with the Braves in 2013 and being assigned to Triple A Gwinnett (Ga.). Snitker was sent down to Gwinnett after that season and managed Kazmar until the major league team fired skipper Freddie Gonzalez midway through ’16.

Finally, one of the grinders got his chance. He immediately thought of the other.

“Ever since I got this job in ’16, I thought one of the happiest days that I’ll have as a major league manager is if I could manage Kaz in the big leagues,” Snitker says.

After what Snitker described as his third straight year as spring training MVP, Kazmar made the taxi squad this season. So when outfielder Ender Inciarte strained his left hamstring against the Cubs on Friday, Snitker and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos barely had to confer about who would replace him on the roster.

When Snitker returned to the team hotel that evening, he asked Kazmar to stop by his hotel room. Snitker poured two glasses of whichever red wine was stocked in his minibar and opened the door. Neither man can remember exactly how the conversation went—it was a blur on both ends—but Snitker knows he delivered the news quickly. He always does. He wants the player to have as much time as possible with his joy.

They talked for half an hour about the winding road Kazmar had taken. He never imagined giving up, he says now. “I think it’s super easy to start doubting yourself,” he says. “Especially when it was, like, 12 straight years in Triple A, it’s like, Man, will that ever happen? But at the end of the day, what I think was going on was, I was just happy because I’m getting to play baseball.”

This is the attitude that has led to Snitker’s latest public-relations campaign, trying to convince anyone who will listen that Kazmar’s story should be a book or a movie, and that companies should hire him to talk to their employees about perseverance.

“That doesn’t happen, and especially in today’s game when these guys are just run through the minor leagues,” Snitker says. “You got a guy that did it in ’08, and now 13 years later, he’s back. And this isn’t a gift. I mean, this guy is good. He can play. And that’s the thing, he keeps getting better!”

Kazmar got one at bat as a pinch hitter on Saturday—he grounded into a double play—and pinch ran on Tuesday. Snitker cannot promise him this stint will last past Enciarte’s IL time. But the manager has his eyes on the future.

“I told our people, he should never not have a Braves uniform on,” says Snitker. “Infield coordinator, manager, whatever. This guy should be with the Braves forever.” One lifer to another.

Quick Hits

  • The Yankees finally won a game on Tuesday, beating the Braves 3–1 to improve their record to 6–10. “Right now, we would be a team that an opponent would want to play,” GM Brian Cashman told reporters on Monday, after a fifth straight loss. The situation isn’t dire yet—it’s April 20—but New York’s playoff odds have dropped 17.5 percentage points since Opening Day, according to FanGraphs, so Tuesday’s win might settle some stomachs in the Bronx.
  • The other side of that swing in playoff odds is the Red Sox, who beat the Blue Jays 4–2 to extend their division lead to three games. FanGraphs gives Boston a 59% chance to make the playoffs, up 21 points since the season began. The rotation has been shaky, but the bullpen has been airtight and the offense leads the majors in runs scored. After a season that was (rightfully) mostly about the absence of Mookie Betts, it’s nice that fans get to care about the guys who are still there. 
  • Shohei Ohtani returned to the mound after a blister sidelined him for nearly three weeks. As is often the case, he was brilliant but frustrating: four innings, one hit, six walks, seven strikeouts. He sat at 96 mph and touched 98. He is sensationally talented, but to become a true difference-maker as a pitcher he will have to find a way to work more efficiently. 

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