Jake Snider’s final season at the University of Louisville ended on June 21 at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
His first season of professional baseball with the Bristol Pirates will conclude a couple of months later in the Appalachian League playoffs.
“It’s really cool,” Snider said. “I went to Omaha twice and it was something I can’t describe. Now, I’m on a new kind of journey and I couldn’t expect much more from how this has gone and I’ve loved it. At the same time, we’re not done yet and we’re looking to win the whole thing.”
That quest officially gets underway today as Bristol hosts the Johnson City Cardinals at 6:30 p.m. in Game 1 of the Appalachian League West Division Championship Series.
Snider wasn’t able to celebrate a title with the Louisville Cardinals, but he might get a chance to do so with the Pirates.
“I like winning,” said Snider, an outfielder who is hitting .300 in 21 games. “I think the saying for me would be I hate losing more than I like winning. … When you’re in a [playoff] situation, you can’t hold back.”
Today’s contest will mark the first postseason appearance for the city’s pro baseball franchise since 2002, when the Bristol White Sox beat the Bluefield Orioles for the crown.
The BriBucs secured their playoff bid with a 4-2 victory over the Danville Braves on Wednesday night in a must-win game. The Pirates (34-33) dropped six of their first seven games in 2019 and had some other prolonged slumps, but battled back each time.
“It seems like we perform our best when our backs are against the wall,” said Bristol manager Kieran Mattison. “This team’s been relentless all season. We’ve had peaks and valleys, but we’ve stayed the course and continued to be committed to our process. We would have a tough loss and these guys came in the next day ready to turn the page and ready to work to get better.”
Jose Maldonado (4-6, 4.34 ERA) is scheduled to be the starting pitcher tonight for the BriBucs.
“At the end of the day, it’s just one pitch at a time, one inning at a time and that’s all you can do,” Mattison said. “All the work is done, so just stick to your routine and go out there and play. We’re facing an opponent we’ve faced a lot, so it should be a good series.”
Bristol led the Appy League with a team batting average of .267. With a mix of guys with professional experience and some accomplished sluggers from college programs, Bristol has gotten solid production from everybody on the roster.
The pitching has been pretty good too as closer Samson Abernathy finished tied for the Appy League lead with eight saves.
“The group of experienced guys from Florida that we brought here, they did a good job showing these new guys the ropes of pro ball,” Mattison said. “It was almost like the college guys were freshmen and the experienced guys, even though they were 18, 19 years-old, they’ve been in pro ball for three years and know what’s expected. It was a good combination and they blended together like a box of crayons. That team chemistry is something that’s helped us prevail.”
Mattison won a title while pitching in the minors in 2004 and will try to do the same as a manager 15 years later.
“Every team going into the season from the big leagues through all levels of the minors wants to go to the playoffs and give themselves a chance to win a championship,” Mattison said. “For this group to beat all the odds, grow and learn has provided us with a shot to do something special.”
NOTES: Game 2 will be Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in Johnson City. Game 3 (if necessary) would be played on Sunday at 5 p.m. in JC. … Bristol went 5-4 against the Cardinals this season. … Burlington hosts Pulaski today at 6:30 p.m. in Game 1 of the East Division Championship Series. … The last time Bristol and Johnson City met in an Appy League playoff series was 1955. … Bristol used to be a playoff regular. The Bristol Twins qualified for the Appalachian League postseason (referred to as the Shaughnessy Playoffs back then) in 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955.