Thanksgiving brings out culinary delight in Snider
Pirates outfielder takes passion for food to new level during holiday
Travis Snider can do some cool things on the diamond and, afterward, tends to talk about them the same way: Coolly, in even tones.Scoring a huge run in a late-August 2-1 win in St. Louis that keeps the Bucs on the playoff track? Ho-hum. Flying through the air with the greatest of ease for a spectacular snatch of a certain home run (his Sept. 27 robbery of the Mets' Mike Baxter is up for a GIBBY Award as Top Play of 2012)? Very nice.
But if you want to get a rise out of Snider, if you want to spike his enthusiasm and get him to prattle on excitedly -- just mention Thanksgiving. It has nothing to do with being a history buff, or with ancestors having sailed on the Mayflower, or even with the football feast.Snider is into that other kind of feast. He loves food, and here's a holiday all about eating. "Oh, you absolutely picked the right guy to talk about Thanksgiving. This is a real exciting time around here," Snider said from Kirkland, his birthplace and home in northwest Washington state. "I'm doing extra cardio work to give myself some cushion for those 48 hours of binge eating. I go to the same events, to be with family and friends, every year and there's no shortage of kinds of food available to eat. I'm always looking for new and exciting dishes. It's definitely an exciting time for me. There's no better time of the year." You would expect nothing less of a guy whose Twitter handle is LunchBoxHero45 (the number refers to his uniform with Toronto, before his trade to the Pirates and into No. 23; but he has too many followers, nearly 60,000, to update now). The only thing Snider likes more than a good meal is preparing it, fussing over finding just the right blend of spices and cooking temperature. His second biggest dream -- after getting that World Series ring -- is opening a restaurant. In other words, pitchers can get away with throwing heaters into his kitchen at the plate -- but everyone better stay out of his real kitchen. A bachelor, Snider does not host his own Thanksgiving party, partly because, as he admitted ironically, "I'm not a huge turkey guy." He will put out his own spread at Christmas, which is also the time people go caroling house-to-house. Around Thanksgiving, Snider goes chewing house-to-house. He'll be kitchen-hopping in the close-knit community where he grew up and never left -- physically, or emotionally. "I've got two extended families. Relatives, and guys I grew up playing baseball with," he said. "My cousin does the big turkey deal. My main thing is prime rib. I'll show up somewhere Thursday with a big brisket. Some ribs and lamb -- different kinds of meat. We'll have all kinds of hors d'oeuvres and appetizers. Bacon-wrapped smokies are a favorite. Anything wrapped in bacon is always a big hit. "To be able to spend time with people you care about and eat good food ... it doesn't get better than that. There's 10 to 15 friends, we get together with each other's families. I played baseball or other sports with them, and being in their houses is like being in my second home. They'll be cooking and give me free reign to taste stuff and make suggestions. A lot of it is by taste; I'm not an expert, but I'm acquiring the knowledge. The night before Thanksgiving, there's a lot of finger food, and everyone eats as much as they can. "The next night, they hold the dinners, and it's always fun. I'll get to see four, five different families, people I stay in touch with. They're all close to my heart." Ahem ... what is it that they say about the quickest route to a man's heart? Right -- through the stomach. Cooking is in Snider's DNA. "As kids, we always ate well. My mom, Patty, is one of the best cooks I've known," he said. "For us, her all-time favorite was fried chicken. I developed an interest in cooking at a young age, from watching my mom. Through the years, I just started paying attention more." Snider is a serious gourmand, and we are not talking about any new-wave vegans with alfalfa sprouts coming out of their ears. He is strictly red-meat-and-potatoes, and seafood. His interest in cooking falls somewhere between a hobby and an obsession. It is that important to him, and helps define him. Other Major Leaguers talk about some new mobile gadget or the latest high-tech headphone with the zeal with which Snider mentions having "invested in a nice barbecue this offseason, with a searing station on it." "I'm starting to get a feel for the right temperature and time, and how to use it to the fullest. My love is for meat, and I try to stick to that," said Snider, who has enough tools on the field to have been the Blue Jays' No. 1 Draft choice in 2006, and isn't a one-tool player in the kitchen, either. "Picked up an electric smoker, trying a little barbecue fusion. And doing a lot with the crock pot this offseason, pulled-pork and different kind of chicken." Snider's kitchen posse includes Jack Parfit, a friend who is a bona fide chef trained at famed cooking school Le Cordon Bleu, and Steve Nobles, one of his former Little League coaches who works for a large meat company. "Jack and I collaborate in the kitchen," Snider said. "Three days before a dinner party, we'll start to narrow down some recipes and really try to pick some for doing different styles of meat. He'll bring all his special knives and show me how to fillet salmon. He's got a lot of tools and ideas. My dad, who lives with me, is always joking with us that we should have our own cooking show. We definitely have a good time. "Steve is still a close friend of the family, and from him I get full sides of tender beef and New York steaks. My freezer is always stocked full of beef, pork, lamb, brisket. I'm trying to evolve from being a master of the barbecue to learning how to cook in the crock pot and smoker. There's certain things I can do, but there is so much more to learn." As for that future restaurant, do you even have to ask? "Anything steak-related," Snider said, "I'd be very passionate about. A lot of athletes try to open their own restaurants, but there's a lot to learn about the restaurant business. What I'd want would depend on where, and what's available in the area. In my local area here, there's room for a nice steak joint." Has a certain ring to it -- Snider's Steak Joint -- doesn't it?
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.