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03-28-2007, 10:22 PM
Snyder in a league of his own
Unfortunately for Bats slugger, it might be dreaded 'Four-A'

By C.L. Brown
The Courier-Journal

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Mention the term "Four-A" around minor league baseball players and watch them cringe. Offer a manager the same phrase and an approving nod is likely to follow.

Earl Snyder would rather his name not be linked to that conversation.

The third baseman, who will turn 31 in May, is preparing to start the season with the Louisville Bats and hoping to avoid a third straight year without being called up to the major leagues.

"I've been around long enough where there have been times where I've been pegged a Four-A player," he said. "It's kind of like you're in limbo between Triple-A and the major leagues. If there was a league in between, then that's where you'd be playing."

Last season Snyder led the Bats in home runs (17), RBIs (77) and games played (127). In 2005 he led all Tampa Bay Devil Rays minor leaguers in home runs (29) as he played a full season in Triple-A with the Durham Bulls.

"Players don't like to be labeled that because they like to be a 'prospect,' but after a certain amount of years that label starts fitting," Bats manager Rick Sweet said. "It doesn't mean they can't be a major league player, it just means they haven't gotten into that right situation yet."

Snyder has twice been called up to the big leagues. The last time was in 2004 with the Boston Red Sox. He compiled career highs of 36 homers and 104 RBIs -- both of which led the International League -- with Triple-A Pawtucket but started only one game with Boston.

Still, it's the vivid memory of his first trip to the majors, in 2002, that keeps him going.

Snyder was called into his manager's office after an 0-for-3 performance in which he struck out three times with Triple-A Buffalo. Eric Wedge, who now is the Cleveland Indians' manager, also had assembled the hitting coaches when Snyder came through the door.

"Congratulations," Wedge told him. "You're going to Cleveland."

Snyder said he thought it was a joke at first. He didn't even turn on his cell phone for the 200-mile drive from Buffalo until he pulled into the Jacobs Field parking lot. He didn't want someone to call and tell him it was a mistake.

Snyder, who played 18 games with the Indians in 2002 and hit .200 in 55 at-bats, said putting on a major league uniform makes all the waiting worth it.

"You realize that everything you went through, all the practice and the drills stuff you went through to try to get there actually paid off and you made it," he said. "It's something that -- no matter if I make it back or not -- it's something that nobody could ever take away from me."

Snyder is arguably one of the Bats' most driven players. Sweet said he routinely takes more groundballs during practice than any other infielder.

He's viewed as a valuable leader to his younger Triple-A teammates, although he has yet to be looked at the same way by big-league organizations.

"Four-A players are very important people in the game of baseball," Sweet said. "A Four-A player is a very good player at Triple-A. One thing that's important is they have that ability to be some type of leader, whether a leader on the field or a leader in the clubhouse.

"More important, they're guys you can take to the big leagues and they play the game the right way. We talk a lot about playing the game the right way, and Earl falls in that category."

Regardless of how he is labeled, Snyder said he'll keep working to be in a position to get called up by the parent Cincinnati Reds.

"I just have to go out and play well," he said. "If it's in the cards, then it is; if it's not, then it's not. But at least I'll know when I'm done, whenever that is, that I gave everything I could and it just didn't happen."

C.L. Brown can be reached at (502) 582-4044.