During a difficult 2011 season that included two trips to the minors, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider took up reading about Zen.
It started with a book by former Blue Jay outfielder Shawn Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness At 95 MPH in which he talks about how baseball taught him to be in the moment and how to find inner stillness.
“That kind of propelled me into a few other books,” said Snider, who is competing with Eric Thames for the starting job in left field. “I had read that book right before I got called up.
“I couldn't put the book down and read it twice. It was not just an enjoyable read for me but I was able to relate to a lot of things.”
Snider also could apply them to his own life.
“I don't claim to be Buddhist or any particular religion from that sense,” he said. “But I definitely was able to take some things and put them in perspective . . . Our minds as competitors can get the best of us at times and (it's a matter of) being able to take a step back and saying. ‘OK, I've done everything I can do to this point, just go out and play.’
“At times, it's easier said than done but that focus that you are able to refine over the years of experience is what's key for me moving forward in my career.”
Snider, 24, has been considered one of Toronto's top prospects since he was a first-round draft pick in 2006. But he has yet to produce consistently in the majors.
As a result, he's at spring training competing for a job as a left-fielder. And with both Snider and Thames being left-handed batters, there's no chance of the two platooning.
It's a big change from this time last year when Snider had the starting left-field job pretty much cemented amid big expectations. Despite some good moments, he struggled through most of last season and twice sent to triple-A Las Vegas before tendinitis in his right wrist ended his season Aug. 21.
By then Thames was the regular left fielder.
“Maybe it was a blessing in disguise,” Snider said of the season-ending injury. “It gave me some extended time to spend with some friends and family and doing some good self-reflection and really putting things in perspective.”
Snider batted .225 with three home runs and 30 RBIs in 49 games with Toronto last season. He hit .327 in 61 games with Las Vegas with four homers and 42 RBIs.
“So taking the experience that I've had and coming to spring training and having the job there for you versus 2009 and then this year where you're competing for a job, there's a little bit, I don't want to say pressure because that's not the right word, but the focus is much more refined,” he said. “I think it's healthy. It's definitely a good push for me personally.
“Each day you come here you know what you need to accomplish, what I can control and get the most out of that.”
Snider was first demoted last season on April 28 and was recalled July 4 and started out well. But he struggled again and was demoted Aug. 5, and Thames remained in Toronto, when third baseman Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C. was promoted from Las Vegas.
“A lot of things you can go back and try and make sense of what happened last year,” Snider said. “But from a learning process there's a consistency and a routine, which I felt like I kept even though I struggled.
“It was one of those things you're never happy about but you understand this is a business and they have to make business decisions. That's something for me, you move forward from the animosity or the hard feelings and say it's OK, it's what it is and you have to go down to triple-A.”
The competition between Thames and Snider is a friendly one.
“We've played together in the minor leagues as well as at the major-league level,” Snider said. “I've always admired Eric's abilities and what he's able to do with the bat and the way he's developed as a complete player.
“At the end of the day they're going to make a decision and that's their decision to make.”