'It was all worth it': A baseball life reaches a World Series pinnacle for Brian Snitker

Atlanta Braves bench coach Walt Weiss considered the question. It was the last home game the team would play this season — regardless of the outcome — and as his manager stood for selfies with fans who arrived two-and-a-half hours before first pitch, Weiss contemplated the journey it took to get there and wondered: If his career had gone like Brian Snitker’s — a couple minor league seasons as a player, followed by decades coaching his way through the farm system, making it to the big-league staff, only to be sent back down to manage Triple-A before finally breaking through as a first-time major-league manager at 60 — would he have stuck with it?

Weiss shook his head and thought for a moment.

“I don't know. I don't know if I could have done that,” he said, “It would have been very easy to just start doing something else.”

A family affair, a long time coming

The morning of World Series Game 5, Brian and Ronnie Snitker were awoken by their grandchildren, the littlest dressed like a fireman, stopping by to trick-or-treat. It had been a late night after Game 4, in which the Braves seized a 3-1 series lead. Really, they have all been late nights this month. After the games, Brian brings home a plate of food from the clubhouse — he can never eat until hours after the final pitch — and they talk about all the far-flung friends they’ve heard from as the Braves forge deeper into October. A career path that spawned a Christmas card list 350 families deep before it became too unwieldy to keep up with has given way to a network of people happy to see the Snitkers celebrated on such a big stage.

They’re a little superstitious, so before what would have been the final game of the 2021 baseball season if the Braves had their way, Ronnie laid out luggage for herself and her husband, but barely put anything inside. They would deal with flying to Houston only if they had to.

On the drive to Truist Park, they called Troy Snitker, their son and the Astros assistant hitting coach. The family affair Fall Classic has been a jubilant occasion for the Snitkers, but on this particular morning Brian had something to admit to Ronnie after they hung up.

“I love him to death,” Snitker said of his son and series rival, “but I couldn't say good luck.”

After all, this is Troy’s second visit to the World Series with the Astros (he joined the Houston staff in 2019). The Braves, meanwhile, haven’t been since 1999, haven’t won it all since 1995.

That was 26 years ago, an entire Game 4 starter Tucker Davidson’s lifetime ago. Consider then, that Snitker was already 19 years into his tenure with the Braves at the time, 15 years into coaching in some capacity for the franchise. The minor-league staff had been invited to the series and so he was there, sitting in the stands alongside Ronnie at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, as Tom Glavine led the team in a 1-0 victory to clinch a championship.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Snitker said.

“Now it's kind of like oh, no, we didn't know anything about this,” Ronnie says with a laugh.

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 27: Brian Snitker #43 of the Atlanta Braves looks on from the dugout prior to Game 2 of the 2021 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday, October 27, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Braves manager Brian Snitker has played or coached for Atlanta in some capacity since 1976. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images) (Daniel Shirey via Getty Images)

A full baseball life

“People in baseball, they know how many houses they’ve lived in,” Ronnie says about the strange life of following the game wherever it takes you and your spouse and your children — who spend Halloween at the ballpark when they’re little and babysitting the other players’ babies when they’re teens.

“But I don't know that,” she says. Even in this unique ecosystem, their experience stands out.

The Snitkers are baseball lifers in a way few families can compete with. Atlanta drafted him in the 25th round in 1976 as a catcher out of the University of New Orleans, and Brian Snitker has never been with another organization since.

First he was a roving instructor. Then, over three-and-a-half decades, he managed the Anderson Braves, Durham Bulls, Macon Braves, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Greenville Braves, Mississippi Braves, Richmond Braves and Gwinnett Braves. In the late ‘80s, he made it to the big league team as a bullpen coach, before returning to the minors to manage again. From 2007 to 2013, he was the big-league third-base coach, but didn’t stick then, either. He got the major-league managing job first on an interim basis.

The Braves are all they know; but for a long time, it was a series of single-season deals that expired right around this time each year.

It was hard a lot. Like when they were still in the minors and Brian missed all but a couple innings of Troy’s high school baseball career and Ronnie would borrow a video camera from the school so she could send her husband footage of their son growing into the game they all love. And later, when Brian had made it to managing in the bigs, the game could still get him down. Early in his major-league managing career, when the team was struggling, he even called Ronnie from the last road series of the season and told her he was done with all of it.

She told him to come home, that they would be just fine. But then she called Troy, by then a coach himself in the Astros system, and told him to go talk his father back into baseball.

It must not have been too difficult to do, because Brian Snitker does not give up easily.

“That was one of the things that attracted me to Brian was he was so committed to everything he did,” Ronnie says. “No matter what it was, he was really committed to doing it. And he was loyal. That's a good thing to have in a husband. And then for my children to be able to watch how loyal he was to me and to baseball, it taught them that.”

This month has felt like a tribute to that career. Ronnie had to stop reading the articles and watching the news conferences because they all made her cry. They’re about baseball, but when she sees the stories, it’s about something else.

“It’s us,” she says.

A World Series reward

The Braves did not win their first World Series this millennium in that last game in Atlanta. Leaning on a taxed bullpen tasked with covering all nine innings for the second straight night, the team squandered a first-inning grand slam and Freddie Freeman’s franchise record-setting sixth career go-ahead homer in the postseason. Pack those bags, if this is going to get done, it’ll be in Houston.

After the loss, 9-5 to an Astros lineup come alive, Ronnie waited for Brian outside the Braves' clubhouse. As the stadium staff filed out of Truist for the final time this season, many stopped to say goodbye to her. And to each one, she assured them that the team would be back next week — to celebrate.

But when they’re gone, she considers the journey and how often it ends in disappointment. Monday in Houston, Snitker told reporters that the pressure’s off once you’re in the World Series. You’ve made it, now it's time to enjoy the ride.

“Everything was worth it, you know,” Ronnie says. “What we went through, even if he just got to manage in the big leagues, it was all worth it.”

Finally, even the security guard outside the clubhouse door heads out while Snitker and his staff continue to discuss their pitching options over the final two games.

“You’ll get it done, I know you will,” the guard tells her as he leaves. “The skipper should be coming out soon.”

“You go on home,” she tells him. “I’ll take care of it. I’ll take care of getting him home.”