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WORLD SERIES NOTEBOOK: The Appalachian League boasts several alumni including Brian Snitker

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Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker talks with coach Dave Trembley at spring training in Kissimmee, Florida, in 2018. Both Snitker and Trembley have ties to the Appalachian League.

If Brian Snitker’s 45th season in professional baseball were to end like his first then Atlanta Braves fans will be overjoyed.

As the 66-year-old manager pilots Atlanta in the World Series against the Houston Astros, at some point he might harken back to the first championship he was part of as a pro.

Snitker hit .270 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 55 games during the summer of 1977 and the 21-year-old catcher was a catalyst as the Kingsport Braves won the Appalachian League title.

Kingsport compiled a 43-26 record to take the pennant, finishing half a game ahead of the Bristol Tigers in the standings (there were no playoffs at the rookie-league level at the time) and Snitker played the role of hero.

On the final day of the regular season, he drove in the go-ahead run with a RBI single in the eighth inning to clinch a 5-4 win over the Elizabethton Twins in the first game of a doubleheader at Joe O’Brien Field. That victory, coupled with Bristol’s 10-4 setback at Johnson City, put the Braves on top.

“I’ll be thinking about winning the pennant here for a long time to come,” Snitker told a reporter from the Kingsport Times-News after the crown had been secured.

It was indeed a memorable pro debut for the Illinois native who had starred at the University of New Orleans and while he never reached the majors as a player, he did show traits that would help him reach the big leagues in another capacity.

“You could tell back then he was very much a student of the game,” said Bruce Tonascia, also a catcher for Kingsport in ‘77. “Bob Didier was our manager and Sonny Jackson was on the coaching staff and Brian just soaked in everything he could from them. He was a good low-ball hitter, was always very positive and nothing seemed to faze him too much.”

Snitker returned to the Appy League in 1996 as manager of the Danville Braves, piloting the team to a 37-29 mark and a second-place showing in the Appy League’s North Division.

“He was pretty much like he is now,” said Tyrone Pendergrass, the top hitter for Danville that season. “He taught me to let it all hang out, leave it all on the field and to just have fun. As far as how I feel about him going to the World Series, I’m super proud of him. Well-deserved and couldn’t have happened to a better person.”

The batboy for Danville in ‘96 was Brian’s son, Troy Snitker, who played in 25 games for the Danville Braves 16 years later. Troy Snitker is now the hitting coach for the Houston Astros as either the father or the son will win a World Series title.

Appy League Alumni

Brian and Troy Snitker aren’t the only World Series participants who spent time in the Appalachian League.

There are quite a few Appy League alums in the Fall Classic and that’s no surprise as Danville, Virginia, was the home of a Braves farm team from 1993-2019 and Greeneville, Tennessee, housed an Astros affiliate from 2004-2017.

>>> Houston third-base coach Omar Lopez became quite familiar with the Appalachian League.

He spent the 1996 and 1997 seasons as an infielder with the Bristol White Sox and hit .246 with four home runs and 37 RBIs in 104 games.

Lopez managed the Greeneville Astros in 2011 and 2012, compiling a 61-75 record.

>>> Outfielder Eddie Rosario of the Atlanta Braves was the MVP of the National League Championship Series, 10 years after he was presented with an honor of another kind.

Rosario was the 2011 Appalachian League co-player of the year (sharing the award with Brandon Drury of the Danville Braves) after a sublime season for the Elizabethton Twins in which he it .337 with 21 home runs and 60 RBIs.

>>> Pitching coach Rick Kranitz of the Braves played in one game for the Pikeville Cubs in 1984 and three years later served as the pitching coach for the Wytheville Cubs.

>>> Atlanta pitcher Ian Anderson was 0-2 with a 3.74 ERA in five starts for the Danville Braves in 2016.

>>> Right-handed pitcher Charlie Morton of Atlanta went 2-5 with a 4.67 ERA in 14 appearances for the 2003 Danville Braves.

>>> Atlanta’s Jacob Webb pitched to the tune of a 3.18 ERA and notched two saves in 12 games for the Danville Braves in 2016. Those saves came against the Elizabethton Twins and Bristol Pirates.

>>> Injured Atlanta pitcher Mike Soroka was 0-2 with a 3.75 ERA in six starts for the 2015 Danville Braves.

>>> Catcher William Contreras of the Atlanta Braves hit .290 with four home runs and 25 RBIs in 45 games for the Danville Braves in 2017.

>>> Atlanta second baseman Ozzie Albies was a 17-year-old member of the Danville Braves in 2014 and hit .356 with a home run and 14 RBIs in 38 games. He went 3-for-4 with two triples and scored three runs in the final game of the regular season that summer, a 6-1 win over the Bristol Pirates at DeVault Stadium.

>>> Utility man Johan Camargo of Atlanta batted .294 and collected 14 RBIs for the Danville Braves in 2013.

>>> Atlanta’s Austin Riley hit .351 with five home runs and 19 RBIs for the 2015 Danville Braves.

>>> Atlanta pitcher Huascar Ynoa was 0-1 with a 5.26 ERA in six starts for the 2017 Elizabethton Twins.

>>> Atlanta outfielder Cristian Pache hit .333 with 10 RBIs in 30 games for the Danville Braves in 2016.

>>> Injured Atlanta superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. hit .290 with a home run and seven RBIs in 18 games for the 2015 Danville Braves.

>>> Pinch-runner extraordinaire Terrence Gore of the Braves stole 36 stolen bases to go along with a .256 batting average and 13 RBIs for the 2012 Burlington Royals.

>>> Houston pitcher Cristian Javier was 1-1 with a 1.75 ERA in seven outings for the Greeneville Astros in 2016.

>>> Blake Taylor of the Astros pitched in eight games for the Kingsport Mets in 2014 and had a five-game stint with the same Appy League club two years later.

>>> Houston reliever Jose Urquidy pitched in six games for the 2015 Greeneville Astros.

>>> Left-handed pitcher Framber Valdez of the Astros appeared in two games for Greeneville in 2016, compiling a 1.69 ERA. One of those outings came against the Bristol Pirates at DeVault Stadium as he struck out seven and yielded two runs in 4 2/3 innings. He’ll start for Houston in Game 1 on Tuesday night.

>>> Houston second baseman Jose Altuve played in 85 games with the Greeneville Astros over the course of the 2008 and 2009 seasons. His first homer as a professional came at Elizabethton’s Joe O’Brien Field, while Altuve went 9-for-29 in seven career games at DeVault Stadium in Bristol.

>>> Houston shortstop Carlos Correa hit .371 in 11 games for the Greeneville Astros in 2012.

>>> Rookie outfielder Chas McCormick of the Astros tore the cover off the ball in an eight-game stint for Greeneville in 2017, going 15-for-30 with four RBIs.

>>> Houston Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker hit .286 in 30 games for the Greeneville Astros in 2015. In an 8-1 win that summer over the Bristol Pirates at DeVault Stadium, Tucker went 3-for-4 with a double, stolen base, RBI and outfield assist.

>>> Houston pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. was 0-3 with a 4.80 ERA in four starts for the 2012 Greeneville Astros.

Billy Ball

Folks from Southwest Virginia can call this the Billy Wagner Series.

The legendary relief pitcher who starred at Tazewell High School began his 16-year MLB career with the Houston Astros in 1995 and threw his final big-league pitch for the Atlanta Braves in 2010.

Wagner is the franchise leader in saves (225) for the Astros and was recently inducted in the team’s Hall of Fame.

The Trembley Classic

Dave Trembley will be keeping a close eye on the Fall Classic proceedings from his home in Florida.

The 69-year-old manager of the Appalachian League’s Bristol State Liners in 2021 was once employed by the organizations going for the World Series title.

He served as both a third-base coach and bench coach for the Houston Astros during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, while he worked in player development for several seasons up until 2018 for the Atlanta Braves and oversaw the growth of many of the team’s current stars.

“[Braves skipper Brian Snitker] and I managed against each other in the minor leagues,” Trembley said. “A tremendous person – it is all about the players with him.”

Teammate Talk

Plenty of folks in the World Series have shared a clubhouse with locals in the pros:

>>> Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman played with C.J. Lee (Virginia High) in the minor leagues and with Billy Wagner (Tazewell) in the majors.

>>> Former Fries High School and East Tennessee State University slugger Ed Goodson played with current Houston manager Dusty Baker for three seasons with the Atlanta Braves (1975) and Los Angeles Dodgers (1976-77). In fact, Baker and Goodson were traded to the Dodgers on Nov. 17, 1975 for Lee Lacy, Tom Paciorek, Jerry Royster and Jim Wynn.

Also on that 1977 Dodgers team with Baker and Goodson: Current Braves third-base coach Ron Washington.

>>> Jimmy Gobble (John Battle) and Houston pitcher Zack Greinke were teammates with the Kansas City Royals from 2004-2008. Greinke was a regular guest at Gobble’s Andrew Mullins Memorial golf tournament at Glenrochie Country Club in Abingdon for several years.

>>> Houston outfielder Jose Siri played with Dobyns-Bennett High School graduate Aaron Quillen when both were in the Cincinnati Reds minor league system.

>>> While he was toiling in the minor leagues as an Oakland A’s prospect, Houston bench coach Joe Espada counted Denny Wagner (Castlewood) among his teammates.

>>> Houston utility man Orlando Arcia played in the minor leagues with Tristan Archer (Sullivan South) and in the big leagues with Virginia High grad Justin Grimm.

>>> Astros reliever Kendall Graveman was a teammate of Daniel Norris (Science Hill) in both the minors and majors when both were with the Toronto Blue Jays.

>>> Brett Martin (Morristown East) wasn’t the only pitcher for the Texas Rangers in 2019 with that last name. Current Atlanta reliever Chris Martin was on that squad.

>>> Former Virginia High standout Justin Grimm’s manager during his time pitching for the Texas Rangers in 2012 and 2013 was current Atlanta third-base coach Ron Washington, while Atlanta slugger Jorge Soler was a teammate of Grimm’s with the Chicago Cubs.

>>> Atlanta bullpen catcher Jose Yepez caught pitches from Nick Hill (Sullivan East) when both played in the Seattle Mariners minor league system more than a decade ago.

Norris knows these teams

Left-hander Daniel Norris faced the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves during a 2021 season in which the ex-Science Hill High School star pitched for both Detroit and Milwaukee.

He allowed a run in 1/3 of an inning to Houston on April 14 when he was with the Tigers, while he retired both Atlanta hitters he faced in his debut for Milwaukee on July 31.

thayes@bristolnews.com | Twitter:@Hayes_BHCSports | (276) 645-2570

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