CHICAGO — Travis Snider says he loves two things — playing baseball and eating meat. This means he's probably starting on the right foot with Pittsburgh Pirates fans. The non-vegetarian ones, anyway.
After being traded by the Blue Jays for Brad Lincoln in the wee hours the night before, Snider hopped a flight from Seattle and joined the Pirates on Tuesday for the second of three games at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle put him second in the order and played him in right field. Running on adrenaline because of a lack of sleep, Snider singled and later scored, on Neil Walker's grand slam, in his first inning with Pittsburgh. He also made a nice, if adventurous, sliding catch on a fly ball in the fourth inning.
He finished 1 for 4 with a walk in Pittsburgh's 5-0 victory behind A.J. Burnett, who came within four outs of his second career no-hitter before settling for a one-hitter. As for Snider: He made a good first impression. Before the game, Snider said Hurdle told him to "Just go out there and be 'you.' "
Snider being himself, he says, includes a strong work-ethic, learning from his past mistakes so his game improves and, of course, eating. His username on Twitter, the social media microblogging site, is @LunchBoxHero45. (Snider wears No. 23 for the Pirates, but the rest stands.)
"It was a nickname given to me," Snider said. "I like to eat. If you guys follow me on Twitter, you'll see a lot of posts about food. Mostly steaks and red meat. It's something for to have fun with fans and teammates. Something to keep it not only on baseball."
He's also a respected food critic. When reviewing Toronto's best nachos in Post City Magazine in 2009, he said of the beef and chicken-laded nachos at Bishop and the Belcher:
"Meats don't clash."
It was a classic moment in carnivorous history. But the Pirates didn't trade for Snider because of his appetite, or even his engaging personality. They need him to produce as they pursue a playoff berth for the first time since 1992.
"We're in a race," Snider said. "It's exciting to be part of a winning ballclub."
Snider's previous team, the Jays, were in the AL playoff hunt as well (sort of), and he figured to play frequently down the stretch. But things never have gone as expected with Toronto, which promoted Snider as a 20-year-old in 2008 after Baseball America ranked him the No. 6 prospect in the majors. Snider comes to Pittsburgh with a career stat line of .248/.306/.429 with 31 homers and 250 strikeouts in 917 plate appearances. Since '08, he's been to Triple-A and back more times than he'd like to remember.
"I've definitely learned a lot, going up and down, and I've worked hard on some changes mechanically as well as mentally," Snider said, without being too specific. "I got here (to the majors) at 20 years old and it was something to feel good about, but I've also really struggled at times. That's what I went through the last few years."
He came in batting .250 with three homes in 40 plate appearances this season after recovering from an injury. But simply being average will help the Bucs, who have been making their playoff push mostly with pitching, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones, Walker and several lineup holes. But Pirates' GM Neal Huntington also acquired Snider for tomorrow, hedging a little against this season. In the long run, maybe his deal will turn out like Brian Giles (minus Giles' extraordinary batting eye). Snider hopes this is the place for him.
"It's definitely exciting to have an opportunity to play in October," Snider said. "I'll continue with the mindset I developed the last few years while going up and down: Be prepared every day, go hard and have fun."
And don't forget your lunchbox, filled with any and all kind of meats.