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The Storm Passes for Angels' Snow : He Goes From Success to Failure to Success and Seeks an Even Keel

March 06, 1994|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TEMPE, Ariz. — J.T. Snow stopped to grab an apple in the food line when he noticed a sudden flurry of movement. Reporters were being shooed away. The clubhouse doors were quickly locked.

This was weird. The entire Angel team had just settled into spring-training camp a few days ago, and now Manager Buck Rodgers was calling a team meeting.

Boy, someone sure must have done something wrong. He started feeling sorry for the poor soul who prompted it.

In a sudden attack of anxiety, Snow began replaying the day's events in his mind. Then it hit him. Maybe he was the one.

It didn't help when he looked around and sensed that everyone was staring at him. Seconds later, he realized he had caused the meeting:

It was a surprise birthday party in his honor.

OK, so maybe it wasn't the type of bash that you run home and tell your wife about, but the event left Snow overwhelmed.

Apprehensive that he would be ostracized when he set foot in the Angel clubhouse a year ago, and never quite feeling comfortable, Snow was now being officially accepted by his teammates.

Yes, he was one of the guys.

"I don't think anyone even came up to me to wish me, 'Happy Birthday,' last year," said Snow, 26 last week. "All they knew was that Jim Abbott was gone, and I was one of the guys they got in return.

"Guys were checking me out all spring. They wanted to see what they got in return.

"I just kept my mouth shut and tried to show everybody that I belonged."

The uncertainty and skepticism lasted until the regular season began, and by mid-April everybody knew about J.T. Snow.

But for the next five months they weren't sure just what they knew.

Snow's season was like standing in front of one of a mirror in a fun house. The image differed drastically, depending upon the angle from which you viewed it. It was exaggerated, complimentary and, sometimes, appalling, but never definitive.

How do you start and end a season winning the American League player-of-the-week award and spend the time in between trying to figure out what happened?

"I'm not sure if I've ever seen a season quite like it," Rodgers said. "He ran through the entire gamut of emotions. The whole season was one long rollercoaster ride, and no one knew what time he was getting on or off.

"But I'll tell you this, what J.T. did that first month was the greatest thing that could have happened to us. He not only benefited himself, but he benefited this entire organization.

"Believe me, if he didn't get off to that start, we wouldn't be in the position (to contend) like are today."

*

This was crazy. After battling all spring to make the Angel roster, suddenly he was the reincarnation of Wally Joyner.

It started with a home run in his second at-bat on opening day. He was hitting .368 with five runs batted in at the end of the first week of the season. He had six homers and 17 RBIs by the second week.

By the time Roger Clemens and the Boston Red Sox came to Anaheim on April 25, Snow was batting .407 and featured on TV sportscasts from coast to coast.

"That's when everything started to happen," Snow said. "It hit me all at once. The expectations just became unreal.

"People were telling me I was going to be the rookie of the year after one week. Someone even projected me to hit more homers than Roger Maris. People were acting crazy.

"The trouble was I got caught up in it, too. They told me in spring training just to relax, and that if I hit .260 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs it would a great year.

"But after the first month, everything changed. My expectations went up, too. I figured no problem, I'd hit .280 to .300 with 25 homers."

Said Jack Snow, J.T.'s father: "He told me, 'Honest, Dad, I don't know what I'm doing, but everything I do is working.'

"That's the part that scared the hell out of me. He had nowhere to go but down. My son is not Ted Williams."

Everyone knew it would be impossible for Snow to continue at this pace, and the Angels were not going to stay in first place the entire season, but the dream continued.

Snow became one of the biggest crazes to hit Southern California since the surfboard. Everyone wanted a piece of him. He was receiving nearly 200 fan letters daily. Classmates from third grade were calling him. Stacks of interview and promotional requests awaited him every day he entered the clubhouse.

"That's where the trouble started," said shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who had a locker next to Snow. "He tried to accommodate everyone but himself. Instead of coming to the ballpark for early work, he was there doing interviews and signing everything.

"He was carrying the entire ballclub, but he had so much thrown onto his shoulders, you knew something was bound to happen."

It finally did. In that nationally televised game against the Red Sox, Clemens, taking it upon himself to provide his own rookie initiation program, fired a pitch behind Snow's head that sent him sprawling. Snow struck out, and for the first time in a week, failed to get a hit during the game.

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