Gwinnett Braves Manager Brian Snitker shares a laugh with General Manager North Johnson during a media event held at Coolray Field Thursday afternoon. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
LAWRENCEVILLE — In minor league baseball most managers also spend their team’s offensive innings coaching third base.
Naturally, when Brian Snitker came to the Atlanta Braves as the third base coach after 11 seasons managing every level of minor league baseball standing by the bag in foul territory felt comfortable. Maybe, too comfortable.
“When I first started as third base coach (in Atlanta) I was coming off I don’t know how many years managing and I am standing out there and started to put a hit-and-run on and I am like, ‘No dumb---, you’re not supposed to do that. I have to wait for Bobby (Cox) to do that. I need to back off the throttle a little bit,’” Snitker remembers. “That’s how it goes. You can’t get involved in that part of the game (as third base coach).”
As the Gwinnett Braves new manager, Snitker has the chance to make that call, and plenty others, again. Officially draping a Gwinnett Braves jersey over his shoulders Thursday, G-Braves general manager North Johnson announced Snitker as the team’s third manager and third in as-many seasons. Snitker replaces Randy Ready, who managed the G-Braves in 2012.
Snitker comes to the G-Braves after spending the past seven seasons manning third base in Atlanta, returning to the position he held prior to his call to the big leagues. Snitker spent the 2006 season managing the Class AAA Richmond Braves, his only season as skipper of a Class AAA team. Until this season, that was his final in 17 seasons managing across every level of the Braves’ minor league system. Though his Richmond team struggled, Snitker’s career record sits just below .500 at 1140-1145 (.499). Twice his teams finished in first place and in 1999 and 2000 he won back-to-back Carolina League championships.
“The last seven years, being in Atlanta, it’s always good as managers to step out of the rain, so-to-speak, from time to time. I am a different person than I was seven years ago the last time I managed triple-A,” Snitker said. “I think I learned a lot. My experiences over the last seven years are going to help me, I think, better prepare these guys for where they are going to be which is in the major leagues.”
During Snitker’s announcement, the former player in the Braves organization stressed both his desire to manage in Gwinnett and his experience learning from Hall of Fame players and one of baseball’s best managers, Bobby Cox.
“I could have gone somewhere else and pursued another major league job or a job with another organization,” Snitker said. “In talking to (Atlanta Braves general manager) Frank (Wren) and (Atlanta Braves manager) Fredi (Gonzalez), I have been here (with the Braves) for 37, 38 years. I am getting to that age where I am not looking to start over anywhere. This situation is really good for me.”
Snitker, who joined the Braves organization as a player in 1977 before transitioning to coaching in 1981, lives in Lilburn and his son, Troy, graduated from Brookwood High School and also played in the Braves organization for a few seasons.
“I live 14 miles from here, I raised my kids here in Lilburn at Brookwood High School where (Braves top pitching prospect) Lucas (Sims) is from,” Snitker said. “My mom lives, literally, five minutes from here right around the corner. This really couldn’t be any better for me.”
And Snitker sees a mutual fit with the lessons he learned in the major leagues.
“Just from the experience and everything that I went through the last seven years where these guys are trying to go,” Snitker said. “Whether it’s the mindset of a reliever or having to play everyday and not taking days off and not taking pitches off.
“In the major leagues when you screw up you have to watch it for 24 hours until you play another game on ESPN. You can’t take pitches off, you can’t take anything for granted.”
Snitker praised the work ethic of players he coached like Jason Heyward and Brian McCann and he extolled the calm nature of Cox even in the midst of seeming disasters.
“With Bobby you’d never know if we won 12 in a row or lost 12 in a row,” Snitker said. “I’d react in a game and he’d look at me, ‘What’s that matter?’ I’m like, ‘Oh nothing, guy just threw an 0-2 fastball down the middle and the guy hit it out for a grand slam.’ I am raising hell and he’d look at me like, ‘What’s the matter?’ He’s amazing. What a great experience for me to be there the last four years of his career.”
Now Snitker returns to that seat, a littler older and, perhaps, a little calmer. The hit-and-run is his call again.