Offseason work paying off for Snyder
Conditioning and kickboxing giving catcher an edge
TUCSON, Ariz. -- On the surface it appeared that as the 2006 season wound down, Chris Snyder had every reason to feel pleased with himself.
A new approach at the plate had led to more production, and by September it seemed clear that he had supplanted Johnny Estrada as the team's No. 1 catcher.
But when you approach things the way Snyder does, there's no such thing as a victory lap or complacency, and the 26-year-old saw areas in which he wanted to improve.
He looked at a .225 batting average in September and knew that he was no longer using the entire field as he had in building up to a .291 mark entering the month.
"I think I could have done a lot better had I stayed with my approach late," Snyder said. "The season was getting over, and I thought maybe I could try to hit a couple of homers, and once again I found that doesn't work."
And though he is regarded as a good defensive catcher, he saw something developing behind the plate that disturbed him.
"I had six passed balls last year, and for the playing time I had, that's just unacceptable for me," he said. "I feel like if there's a ball in the dirt, I should block it. I'm a catcher, I should catch. I shouldn't be dropping balls. It's going to happen, but I just want to limit it."
So Snyder sat down with bullpen coach/catching instructor Glenn Sherlock and strength and conditioning coach Nate Shaw near the end of the season, and the three of them came up with a program to improve his conditioning. The plan emphasized quickness and flexibility while aiming to improve his footwork behind the plate.
"He got after it," Sherlock said.
Chase Field became a second home to Snyder in the offseason. He did drill after drill with Sherlock to improve his footwork and exchange on throws as well as his blocking ability.
"I told [Sherlock] to stay on me," Snyder said. "After somebody gets in my [behind] a little bit, I thrive on it. Ot's motivation for me."
Shaw worked in and out of the weight room with Snyder on drills to improve his quickness and flexibility.
And there was one piece of the program that Snyder came up with on his own.
"Do you think it'd be OK if I did kickboxing?" he asked Shaw.
Not just any kind of kickboxing -- we're talking Ultimate Fighting Championship-type stuff.
"I'm a big ultimate fighting fan," Snyder said. "I love the UFC. Every UFC that's on, I'll order it on pay-per-view. I follow the guys. There are some times I keep better track of the UFC than what's going on around baseball. It's something I have fun doing, and it's beneficial in terms of prolonging my career."
Snyder learned Muay Thai, a form of martial arts that Wikipedia refers to as "an especially versatile, brutal, straightforward martial art." Something hitters should keep in mind if they think about charging the mound with Snyder behind the plate.
This wasn't just listening to an instructor and learning a few moves. Snyder actually got in the ring with his instructor, who would wear a dummy suit with arms.
"If I didn't get my hand back in time, he'd swing that arm around, and I'll tell you, once you take a couple of hard plastic paws to the chin, you'll get your hands up," Snyder said. "After the first day, I went and threw about 30 kicks on the heavy bag. My shins looked like they had golf balls in them. It was just all-around good conditioning. Good cardio, good core workout, strengthening my legs, balance and just explosiveness."
The benefits have been evident so far this spring.
"We see, probably, that the biggest difference now is his flexibility in his stance," Sherlock said. "He's much more comfortable, he's getting lower, [making a] lower target. His range has increased. I think his flexibility and quickness help in all those areas. I think we're seeing good results from all the work he put in."
Though he'll continue to take a few Muay Thai lessons during the summer, Snyder will save the hard-core stuff for the offseason. At some point in the future, though, after his baseball career is done, he might get more serious about it. His wife, Carla, will likely have something to say about a sport in which people get arms snapped in half.
"I'm not sure how my wife would feel about it," Snyder said, knowing exactly how she would.
"She said if I did that, she'd never be able to watch."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.