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Major Strides : In their pursuit of a career in baseball, there were stops on the road from Denver to Maine and points in between. Today five players from the Valley have reached the big time in a big way.

November 27, 1986|GORDON MONSON | Times Staff Writer

Uh, Cory, could you hold the bat over this way a bit, look into the camera, and smile. Now, if you'll just turn to the side and give us one of those big strikeout, er, home run swings. Got it, thanks.

Cory, over here big guy. Listen, here's $500 for the public appearance we talked about earlier. You know, just sign a few autographs and you're outta there. Easy as scorching a Bert Blyleven fastball into the left-field seats.

Hey, Cory, could we get you for a spot on the six o'clock news? Attaboy. So, how's the shoulder coming along? How do you feel about facing the Angels' Don Sutton tonight? Last time you were out here, you hit two homers off him. Are you looking for a lot of breaking stuff since, um, you seem to have trouble with that sort of thing?

Say, Cory, we want to write a feature article about you. Have any major league cliches that might shed light on your first year in the bigs? And, about that bat-throwing incident back in Maine, ah hell, it just nicked a couple of women. Geez, that sticky pine tar gets all over everything, doesn't it?

Baseball is supposed to be such a simple game.

Cory Snyder says he likes things--his baseball career for one, his life for another--to run on a predictable, moderate course. "I like to stay even," he says. "An even keel. Don't want to get too high, don't want to get too low." Trouble is, for Snyder, the '86 baseball season had him high, low, here, there--in Maine, Cleveland, a courtroom, right field, left field, third base and shortstop. In front of cameras and in back of microphones.

It also left him in the middle of the race for the American League Rookie of the Year award--he finished fourth--even though he almost missed the boat and the vote completely.

Snyder's season began in Orchard Beach, Me., home of the Cleveland Indians' Triple-A affiliate. He had been given a shot to make the Indians' roster, but after hitting .219 during spring training, he was sent down to the Guides. That decision strangely preceded two events that first rocked and then rolled Snyder back to the Indians.

The first came in late May when Snyder threw his bat after popping out in a game against the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. The bat soared into the stands, splitting the lip of one woman and breaking the nose of another. He was charged with two counts of third-degree assault. The two women subsequently filed a $2.3 million suit against Snyder and his teams--the Indians and the Guides. Snyder blamed the pine tar on his bat, saying it stuck to his hand and caused him to inadvertently rifle the bat the wrong way.

Then, three weeks later, Snyder was called up by the Indians and set on a path that ended with him terrorizing American League pitching.

When Snyder, the former Canyon High player, joined the Indians, Coach Bobby Bonds told him he still had time to hit 20 home runs, drive in 50 runs and hit .270. In 103 games from June to September, the 23-year-old hit 24 home runs, had 69 runs batted in, and he hit .272.

"When he first came up, he was pulling the ball too much," Bonds says. "But he's learned how much fun hitting can be. Still, every once in a while Cory Snyder tries to show people just how far he can hit a ball."

Which is far enough. Once, when he was playing in an exhibition game with the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, Snyder drove a ball out of Comiskey Park.

Conversely, while Snyder made a habit of hitting fastballs over outfield walls this summer, he regularly--on an even keel--flailed at sliders and breaking pitches. During the last weekend of the season, he struck out seven straight times. "I need to learn patience at the plate," he says. "You've got to be smart up there and concentrate and just try to hit line drives."

Four hundred and thirty-foot line drives. Snyder admits that facing major league pitching week after week was a stress-filled learning experience.

"The hardest part," he says, "was realizing that if you strike out three times in one game, you can come back tomorrow. I kept telling myself not to get down. Sometimes, I put too much pressure on myself."

If that wasn't enough, all the hubbub Snyder caused by performing well stirred up more attention and pressure from fans and the media. Everyone, it seemed, wanted a piece of the man the Cleveland media once dubbed "White Hope."

Snyder begrudgingly, at times, put up with reporters but had trouble dealing with criticism. He was suspicious around the media, often talking in platitudes. When he was asked late in the season about the Rookie of the Year award, he said, "I just take it one day at a time." He resents questions about the bat-throwing incident and he refuses to say anything about it.

Nonetheless, his talent on the field is obvious. He's just as defensive on the field as he is off it. He showed surprising versatility in the infield and outfield--and a strong arm that many observers compare with Jesse Barfield's.

So, naturally, the question follows the natural almost everywhere he goes: Will your name one day end up alongside, say, Roberto Clemente's in the Hall of Fame?

"I just play it every day," he says. "I don't look ahead. I take it one at-bat at a time."

In his rookie season, at least, every at-bat was an adventure.

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