Happy To Be Heading Back

Matt Snyder decided it was time to make a decision. So this week he did. He's coming back to Ole Miss for his senior season.

The power-hitting first baseman, often injured but dedicated to one more special season of college baseball, will be back in Oxford in three weeks for school. And he's excited about that.

"I can't tell you how pumped up I am," said Snyder, who was drafted in early June by the Washington Nationals in the 44th round. "I talked to Coach (Mike Bianco), and we're both very excited. I told Coach I'm on a very big mission now to prove I can stay healthy. All of this usually doesn't happen to one person. Sometimes I sit there and think, ‘Why is this all happening?' But I just remind myself it's going to help me and make me a better player and love the game more. Of course, I don't know if I could love the game anymore than I do."

Snyder, always with a positive approach to things, was injured June 3 when he was hit in the face with a pitch during an at-bat for his summer league team, the Haymarket (Va.) Senators against the Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals. It was a devastating blow in more ways than one.

De-railing his baseball for the summer was a minor concern. His health and well-being were much more important.

"It was three days before the draft," Snyder said. "I'm getting used to that kind of luck. Hopefully someday it will stop, because it's getting kind of old."

Snyder injured a shoulder during the early portion of the 2010 season at Tulane, had surgery to repair it last June, and re-injured it early in the preseason of 2011. He was relegated to a DH role both seasons.

This summer's incident was another unexpected setback.

"I was hitting and it was my first game back, the second day I got here from school," said Snyder, who batted .301 with a team-leading nine home runs for the Rebels this past season.

"I was hitting and a lefty came in and he was throwing pretty good. He had some arm-side run. He threw a fastball up and in, and I tried to back away. It cut in and got me right in the cheek bone."

The damage was significant.

"It shattered my cheek bone," Snyder said. "It shattered the bone underneath my eye that holds it up. And I broke my jaw. To be honest with you, I didn't think I would be able to see out of my (right) eye again. It was so swollen so quick. It was kind of like cross-eyed. I was actually asking the people if I was going to be able to see again. They were not very re-assuring at that point."

Snyder also had a concussion, and was "kind of out of it for two weeks," he said. He had surgery June 14.

The repairs were extensive, and they'll remain with him from now on.

Sometimes the times have been tough for Snyder
Bruce Newman
"I have two titanium plates to rebuild my face structure and my cheek bones. And I have something like a mesh net that keeps my eye up. The bone that's underneath my eye that holds it up got shattered. They had to replace that. Those will be there my whole life."

Snyder said he looks the same as he did before June 3.

"It's still a little bit swollen where I got hit. But they say all that stuff can take six months to get all the way healed up."

He was able to play again 45 days after his injury. He'd lost his place with Haymarket, and now he's playing with a new team, the Winchester (Va.) Royals. And he's done very well since returning.

Snyder has batted .351 in 12 games since mid-July with seven home runs and 24 RBI. He actually said he wasn't nervous at the plate upon his return. Sitting on the bench, however, was a different matter.

"This sounds crazy, but I was just so excited to get back in the (batter's) box that I wasn't really thinking about it," he said. "I was more scared in the dugout for a foul ball to fly in more than when I was hitting. The only time I had a few butterflies was when I faced another lefty and he threw one up that almost hit me in the face. That one brushed me back a little bit. But it's all part of the game. If you're scared, you shouldn't be in the box."

Snyder's twin brother, Mike, a former Rebel who plays for Florida Southern now, was also on the Haymarket team and saw his brother's injury when it occurred. Matt admits the past couple of months have been quite a test for both of them. Mike was injured in a car accident in July, but other than some severe whiplash and soreness, he came out mostly unscathed.

"It was definitely a very stressful summer for me," Matt said. "Really I just wanted to know what I was going to do so I could tell people. I didn't want to keep anybody in limbo. I know it was stressful for other people. I can't tell you how stressful it was for me."

The Nationals took their time communicating with him, he said, and it was often frustrating. It basically came down to choosing where he felt he was wanted the most, and that is Ole Miss.

"Absolutely," he said. "The coaches were calling me a lot wanting to know if I was coming back. They were telling me they wanted me back. (The Nationals) said I was still hurt. The coaches at Ole Miss know I'm not hurt and that I want to play baseball."

It was a life learning experience for Snyder.

"I don't understand why it had to be like that," he said. "I was trying to communicate with the Nationals as much as I could. I wish it hadn't (taken so long.) I would have liked to have had a clear mind all summer to know I was going back to play for the Rebels. But I guess that's part of the business, and I guess that's how it works."

Now that he's decided to play one more year of college baseball, his mind is on wrapping up the summer and heading back to Mississippi. He said he wants to win his old spot at first base back. That's a goal for the fall and the preseason.

"I tell people all the time that Oxford is the best place in the world," Snyder said. "Honestly there's no better place, no other place I'd rather be. I'm ready to come back to Ole Miss and win a bunch of games and be a senior leader on the team.

"It's the best place to play baseball in the country. I'm going back to a place where people want me. The best people in the world live down there. They love their athletes. They know how hard we work. I love that place, and I can't wait to get back."

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