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Toronto Blue Jays fielder Travis Snider throws to a teammate during practice at their MLB American League spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, February 21, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)
Toronto Blue Jays fielder Travis Snider throws to a teammate during practice at their MLB American League spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, February 21, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

Pair of Blue Jays battle for left field Add to ...

One retired to his garage that he converted into a makeshift gym, complete with barbells, kettle bells, balance disk and other implements of self-imposed torture to sculpt a body that already seemed in pretty fine fettle.

The other returned to his home in the idyllic Pacific Northwest, where he donned a backpack and escaped deep into the mountainside on a camping trip for some serious soul searching about his baseball past and future.

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Travis Snider and Eric Thames are teammates on the Toronto Blue Jays, both young, left-handed hitters who arrive at spring training intent on winning the starting left-fielder’s job.

Both adopted different strategies to prepare themselves for what is shaping up to be the most hotly contested competition at the Blue Jays camp. Both are confident in the path they have chosen to achieve success.

“I look at Travis and I respect him as a ballplayer. But he’s competition,” Thames told The Globe and Mail during an interview Wednesday. “He’s a great person off the field and on the field as well. But it’s just one of those things where may the best man win.”

Thames, 25, is a year older than Snider, his more well-known rival whose major-league career has been a seemingly never-ending roller-coaster ride since the Blue Jays made him their first-round pick (14th overall) in the 2006 draft.

This is Snider’s fifth training camp with the Blue Jays, and he has yet to play a full season with both injuries and the inability to consistently hit big-league pitching crimping his progress.

Last season, Snider made the team out of spring training, but a month later found himself back in Triple-A to rebuild a power swing that had turned mostly limp. His season was shut down for good on Aug. 21, 2011, after suffering tendinitis in his right wrist.

There have been whispers that this camp could be Snider’s last shot at proving himself major-league worthy, but it is an assumption manager John Farrell adamantly denies.

“He’s got a multiskill set,” Farrell said. “As Travis has come up and done very well, it’s been the consistency of that production that has been somewhat elusive.”

After the early end to his 2011 season, Snider returned home in Washington to “decompress.” That included getting together with family and old friends he hadn’t spent time with in a while – people he regards as his support group away from the baseball field.

It also meant donning a backpack, grabbing a tent and hiking into the mountains for a couple of days. “Really just get out away from cellphones and the Internet and all that kind of stuff and spend some time with some quality people and enjoy the ambience of the mountains,” Snider described his escape.

He realized he was letting thoughts about past struggles start to creep into his mind, which, Snider said, was affecting his play.

“The greatest athletes in the world, they have that fire, they have that competitive spirit and there’s not a doubt in their mind,” he said, adding he plans on only accentuating the positive in his game this season.

Thames, who started last season in Triple-A, made his major-league debut with the Blue Jays on May 18. He wound up starting 52 games in left field, more than any other player, hitting .262 with 12 home runs and 37 runs batted in.

After getting a taste of the big leagues, Thames said he went home to San Jose, where he went to work in his makeshift gym to get stronger.

“I know I want to have a career up here,” he said. “I don’t want to be a guy that just came up for a little bit and now is working at McDonald’s or something like that.”

Thames, whose bulging biceps threatened the integrity of the short-sleeved shirt he was wearing Wednesday, said working out alone in a garage, with heavy metal music pumping out over the stereo, can have its advantages.

“The good thing about the garage and working out alone, you can take off your shirt and just like scream, and nobody will judge you,” he said.

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