|Kyle Snyder, who surrendered a pair of solo homers yesterday, would love nothing more than to break camp with the Red Sox. (CHARLES KRUPA/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
At long last, Snyder armed and dangerous
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Like Bronson Arroyo, he's blond, he's tall, he's laid-back, he's a native Floridian, and he can even play a little guitar.
"I enjoy music," Kyle Snyder said. "I don't know if I have the innate God-given ability to listen to a song and play it like he does. I can fool you for about 20 minutes on a guitar, but that's about as far as I'll go. It's not altogether foreign in my hands, but I'm nowhere near as accomplished as he is."
The two have even become friends. They have the same agent, Terry Bross, and he arranged for them to go fishing with a few guys in Costa Rica this winter. It was the first time they met, and they hit it off. Snyder, who has been commuting here from his home in Sarasota, and Arroyo, who trains in Sarasota with the Reds, had dinner recently.
But there's another Red Sox pitcher who has had a much greater impact on Snyder's life. Without him, Snyder said, he probably wouldn't have been pitching yesterday at City of Palms Park, trying to win a spot on the Sox staff.
That pitcher, Curt Schilling, also threw yesterday, across town in Hammond Stadium against the Twins.
"I'm forever indebted to him," Snyder said yesterday.
Schilling and Snyder met in Arizona in the winter of 2003 at the Athletes' Performance Institute, where they were training. "I became his throwing partner," Snyder said.
Schilling became much more than that for Snyder. Schilling steered Snyder to Craig Morgan, the orthopedic surgeon who repaired Schilling's shoulder 12 years ago and did the same for Snyder Feb. 25, 2004, when Snyder agreed to undergo the fourth operation on his right arm in four years. Two operations on his elbow, including Tommy John elbow reconstruction. Two on his shoulder, the one by Morgan, the doctor said, very similar to the one he performed on Schilling when he was 28, the same age Snyder was.
"We call it a SLAP lesion labrum, our term for a thrower's labrum tear," Morgan said by phone yesterday. "At the top of the [shoulder] socket, there's some gristle of cartilage. That's the labrum. The back upper part is where the biceps attaches."
The labrum helps to stabilize the ball of the humerus (arm bone) as it fits into the shoulder socket. The upper part of the labrum also anchors one of the two tendons of the biceps muscle. The tendon and the labrum can be torn away from the shoulder joint in a front to back direction (anterior to posterior). Hence, SLAP -- Superior Labrum Anterior to Posterior, or upper right arm front to back.
Snyder had undergone one operation on his shoulder, but the labrum tear either went undetected, or was not addressed. For Snyder, it was reminiscent of his first elbow surgery, in which the ulnar nerve was transposed, only to require ligament reconstruction fewer than three months later.
"I picked his brain," Snyder said of Schilling. "I physically wasn't capable of pitching in 2004. Me and him ultimately came to the decision that this was something I was going to have to have done again."
Snyder is now three years removed from that surgery. Morgan said yesterday by the second year, a pitcher begins to show considerable improvement. After five years of never having a day in which his arm didn't hurt, Snyder said he's fully healthy. There were glimpses, he said, that he was on the road to recovery last season, after the Sox picked him up on waivers from Kansas City and used him as an emergency starter and a spot reliever. Schilling said no one should be surprised if he wins a spot on the club.
"He's as good a kid as I've ever been around," Schilling said yesterday. "I would hazard a guess you'll never find anybody that Kyle has ever met who isn't wishing for his success."
There was a time when stardom was predicted for Snyder. His Babe Ruth League team won the Florida state championship four times and went to the BRL World Series twice. He starred at North Carolina and was drafted seventh overall by the Royals in 1999, and might have gone higher if he hadn't developed triceps tendinitis in his final year with the Tar Heels.
That might have been the first warning sign. The scout who signed him dismissed concerns he was hurt as "kitty litter." The Royals gave Snyder a $2.1 million signing bonus.
Snyder made seven starts in rookie league after signing. "I never made it out of spring the next year," he said.
He had surgery to move the nerve, then tore the elbow ligament in a rehab start.
"There was a lot of discomfort," he said, "but you're a competitor, and when you have some of the world's greatest physicians telling you there's nothing wrong the only thing you can do is put your head down and keep going, and assume that whatever you are feeling will eventually subside. What we had hoped wasn't the case, and I wound up having Tommy John surgery."
Schilling does not mince words when rendering his opinion of what Snyder went through in Kansas City.
"The fact that he spent the first how many years of his career hurt is frustrating and disappointing," Schilling said. "He came from a situation that was medically atrocious, the way he was handled. But he didn't know any better."
When Morgan sees a patient with a scar on his elbow, he's never surprised when there are shoulder issues, too. "It's asymptomatic," he said, "like high blood pressure and a stroke."
Elbow ligaments often tear, he said, because of instability in the back of the shoulder.
Morgan promised Schilling he would throw harder after the surgery, and he did. "That's because we gave him religion on how and what to exercise," Morgan said.
Schilling eventually had another shoulder operation, in 1997, because there was so much thickening of his shoulder capsule it didn't respond to stretching. Morgan cut the capsule to make it longer, "pretty avant-garde stuff at the time," he said.
Schilling's shoulder has remained strong ever since, the result, he said, of his devotion to a throwing program, which Morgan calls a progressive distance toss. Schilling starts at shorter distances, then works his way up to throwing as far as 240 feet. Some teams balk at throwing more than half that distance. "It's the mainstay of Schilling's program," Morgan said.
With Schilling's encouragement, Snyder has adopted that program. He's not the same pitcher he was when he was drafted, a guy who could routinely touch 95 miles per hour. Those days are gone.
"I'm now an 88 to 91, 92 guy," he said, "but I'm a much better pitcher than I ever was in college."
Snyder, who gave up two bases-empty home runs yesterday in the Sox' 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays, has goals that would be considered modest, if not for what he already has endured.
"I'd love nothing more than to break camp with this team as the 25th guy or 12th pitcher on the roster and help out however I can," said Snyder, who was encouraged last season, he said, when catcher Jason Varitek lobbied on his behalf.
Schilling believes Snyder is capable of much more.
"To get where he is is impressive," Schilling said. "You look at him and say, 'Can you imagine if someone had gotten this kid right out of school the right way?'
"But he's a big league pitcher now. He's going to start in the big leagues all year long for somebody. Hopefully he'll be here. He's definitely one of the guys they're looking at to be part of the staff. He can do so many things, but he's got so many years ahead of him."
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.