Throughout the offseason, Chicago Dogs broadcaster Sam Brief will catch up with members of the 2019 Dogs to revisit memorable moments, check on what they’re up to during the offseason and talk baseball.
Another month, another promotion.
Snelten, a Chicagoland native, has reached The Show before. The San Francisco Giants drafted him in the 2013 MLB Draft after a dominant run at the University of Minnesota. He climbed up the Giants’ farm system and was called up to the big-league club in 2018.
His time in San Francisco ended later that year, and after a short stint in the Baltimore Orioles organization, Snelten landed with the Dogs for the 2019 season.
The Lakes Community High School alum was Chicago’s opening-night starter and spearheaded the starting rotation all summer. He posted a 1.24 ERA, struck out 44 batters and issued just eight walks during a dominant August tear.
His next stop: Rays Spring Training.
A Brief conversation with the 6-foot-7 southpaw:
Sam Brief: Congrats on landing with the Rays. Take me through the nitty-gritty of the process — how exactly did it go down?
D.J. Snelten: This offseason, I’ve been working on developing new mechanics, which is something I’d been putting off for a long time. I got to a point in my career where I would either have to make these changes and become the best version of myself, or I could continue the way I was going. I decided to make the changes, and I saw a pretty large velocity increase. Scouts started to take notice.
Over time, the Rays found an opportunity to come see me. One of their guys who heads up scouting has a daughter who lives in Rochester, Minnesota, where I once played summer ball. He just happened to be in town, so he came by and watched one of my bullpen sessions. It just sort of went from there, and we came to an agreement that we both really enjoyed.
SB: How’d you know it was the right fit for you?
DS: I went home during the holidays and took some time to reflect and think about what was best for my career. I had a few other teams on the table. I’d been talking a lot with my dad, who’s always been my biggest supporter, about what it would mean to play for these different organizations.
I believe it was on the morning of December 28. I had told my agent the night before, “Listen, if we don’t hear back from the other teams, I think I already know where I want to go. I want to be a Ray.” He said, “I think you’re making the right decision, but sleep on it. If you feel the same way when you wake up, make your calls.”
I woke up the next morning and felt the exact same way. I knew it was the right thing to do. There are a lot of opportunities to showcase the best version of myself and continue to pursue this career. I have no apprehensions.
SB: What emotions did you feel once you officially signed the contract?
DS: I was extremely excited. You never really know what’ll happen in the offseason, especially after playing a full season in independent baseball. Jobs are never guaranteed in this sport. When you find a foot out of the door, it’s always hard to get a foot back in. But I happened to create enough traction to get an opportunity. I’m extremely happy that I’m getting a chance.
SB: How’d you celebrate?
DS: We went to dinner to celebrate. We met up with my uncle at a nice place in Lake Zurich or Long Grove. We all got together. I filled them in and let them know my plans. It was nice.
SB: You’ve been in the big leagues before, with the Giants. Tell me about the day you were called up to San Francisco.
DS: I was in Sacramento [River Cats, Giants’ Triple-A affiliate]. I was actually helping one of my teammates with his guitar, and I had forgotten one of the pieces to the guitar at my apartment, as well as my wallet. Practice was going to start at 3:45. At 2:45, I went home to go get it. When I grabbed the part, I looked down at my phone and saw I had a missed call from Dave Brundage, the manager. I panicked a little bit, thinking I missed a meeting or something. So I called him back right away. He said, “Hey, you need to get here. I have a car waiting for you. You’re going to San Francisco. You’re getting called up, and you gotta go.”
I hopped on my little Moped, scooted back as quick as I could, got in the car and showed up at the field. Before I knew it, I was already in the game.
SB: When you got in bed later that night, what did you think to yourself?
DS: I couldn’t sleep. I was at the Hotel VIA, right across the street from AT&T Park, which is now Oracle Park. My mind was running nonstop about what it took for me to get there and how six years had flown by. You never know when your opportunity will come. Most people get it in September, and I ended up getting it against the Dodgers, in one of the biggest rivalries in baseball. I just couldn’t think of a cooler moment than to face the 2-3-4 hitters in the eighth inning of a winning ballgame and get an opportunity to pitch at AT&T. It was incredible.
SB: You tossed a perfect inning against Corey Seager (two-time All-Star), Yasmani Grandal (two-time All-Star) and Cody Bellinger (two-time All-Star, 2019 NL MVP). How’d that set in?
DS: It was really cool. Then I got to go out there for the ninth inning as well, and I got my first major league at-bat on the same day as my debut — a chance to swing the bat in front of 40,000 people.
[Former Giants manager Bruce Bochy] came out and took the ball away in the ninth inning. He took the ball from me and said, “Make sure you take your time walking back to the dugout so you can give the people a show.” And as I was walking back to the bench, I had never noticed how loud the stadium was, becuase people were standing and clapping since it was my first time in the big leagues.
One of the things I’m always grateful for is having my first opportunity in the bigs be for Bruce Bochy. I couldn’t think of more of a class act than him. I hope we cross paths again one day, because I’m so thankful for everything he did for me.
SB: What did Bochy teach you?
DS: He taught me to remember that sometimes things aren’t going to go the way you want. During Spring Training in 2018, I got a chance to go pitch in the Bay Series Classic against the Oakland A’s. I came in for the 10th inning, and it didn’t go well. I remember thinking, “This couldn’t have gone any worse.”
The next day, I showed up to the field and felt a little defeated. During the game, [Bochy] asked me, “Are you feeling better about yesterday?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m fine. Wasn’t ideal.” He goes, “I understand how you feel. Oh, by the way, grab a helmet. You’re on deck.”
So he gave me an at-bat in the Bay Series Classic, and it was another opportunity for the fans of San Francisco to get a different look at me. Obviously, a lot of people drew attention to it, like “Oh my God, a relief pitcher is batting in the eighth inning. What’s happening?” I didn’t know why it happened at first, but looking back, it was an opportunity for Bruce Bochy to show me that it’s an incredible game, and there are so many parts of it. You can’t get stuck up on one bad experience. Look at it as a journey.
SB: Forget all this baseball stuff. I know you’re a rock star at heart, D.J.
DS: Yeah, yeah.
SB: Tell me how you got into music.
DS: I started playing guitar in fifth or sixth grade because my brother played, and anything my brother did, I wanted to do. He eventually quit and gave me his guitar. Fast forward 12 or 13 years later, I came across some friends who were also musicians, and we decided to get a band together. We’re actually starting to fly through some tracks right now. Things are in the hands of our producer, and we’re looking to drop an early press (7-8 songs) in February.
SB: For people reading this, how can they find your stuff?
DS: It’ll be on Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube and more, under our name: “Weeknight Syndicate.”
SB: How’d that name come about?
DS: We were stuck on the name for a while. We couldn’t figure it out. But I thought about how we ended up writing most of our music on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, until two o’clock in the morning. So we always talked about “weeknight.” And “syndicate” is just another word for a group of people getting together. It has a mysterious, kind of notorious ring to it. I said, “How about Weeknight Syndicate?”
Our drummer liked it so much that he got a tattoo of the logo on his tricep, so that decided it. As soon as he did that, I was like, “Okay, that’s definitely the name now.”
SB: What’s the biggest similarity between pitching and making music?
DS: Balance. When you write music, your mind can go to different places. You think you made a great track, then you realize that it sounds just like a track you grew up listening to, and it becomes frustrating. Pitching is similar to that in the sense that we keep trying the same things over and over and expecting different results. Sometimes, you just have to keep a balanced head about it.
SB: We’ll wrap this up with a lightning round — some rapid-fire questions. Sound good?
SB: Favorite thing in your closet right now?
DS: My guitar.
SB: Biggest pet peeve?
DS: When you hold the door open for someone, and they don’t say thank you.
SB: If you could be from another decade, what would it be?
DS: The ‘70s
DS: The music — Led Zeppelin, The Beatles. The birth of rock and roll.
SB: If you could have dinner with any three people — dead or alive — who would they be?
DS: Robert Plant, Sandy Koufax, Justin Timberlake.
SB: What would your last meal be?
DS: Tacos al pastor.
SB: You got a spot you like ‘em from?
DS: Yeah, “Bar Luchador” is the place on campus I get them from. It’s a little bar that serves Mexican food, and the entire inside is decorated like a WWE arena.
SB: That sounds like a place that would have the best tacos al pastor ever.
DS: They’re so good.
SB: What superpower would you choose?
DS: I’d fly.
SB: Best gift you’ve ever received?
DS: My first guitar.
SB: What’s your spirit animal?
DS: A deer.
SB: I see it.