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Baseball Forever

A love story: Roswell's Ronnie and Brian Snitker's journey with the Braves

 Brian Snitker was a 21-year-old kid from Macon, IL when he joined the Atlanta Braves as a minor league player. Forty years later, Brian finally got his shot to manage the Atlanta Braves. With Brian at the helm, the Braves dominated the National League East, winning the last six straight division championships, and beat the Astros to become 2021 World Series Champions!

Recently, Brian was in Nashville with his wife Ronnie at the MLB Winter Meetings. When the meetings were over, Brian and Ronnie decided to enjoy an evening together at the Grand Ole Opry. While backstage, among the glamour and glitz, Ronnie couldn’t help but think about the road they had traveled together, and asked Brian, “How the heck did we get here?”

Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Brian came to a fork in the road in 1980 when his playing days came to an end, and Hank Aaron offered him an opportunity to stay in professional baseball as a roving minor league instructor. “I’d been playing baseball since I was seven years old. I loved the game. I could’ve gone back to finish school to become a college coach, but I thought, what the heck, this would give me a chance to do what I love. I wanted to see where it would take me.”

In 1981, Veronica “Ronnie” Sylvester was working at an elementary school in Bradenton, FL as a speech pathologist. A friend at work asked her if she would like to go on a blind date with her friend’s roommate. “At first, I wasn’t interested, but she kept bugging me. When she told me they were baseball players, my reaction was not just no, but 'hell no!’ Eventually, I gave in and went on the blind date.” Her friend’s roommate turned out to be Brian Snitker.

Ronnie’s parents could see that she was getting serious about Brian, so they suggested that she “go and see if this is the life for you before you get too far into it.” Ronnie decided to give it a try and went with Brian to Anderson, SC. “It was Brian’s first time to manage a team, he was 26 and the youngest manager in professional baseball.” A year later Brian and Ronnie tied the knot and began their journey down baseball’s rocky road together.

Brian tasted his first cup of coffee in the big leagues when he was named the Braves’ bullpen coach in 1985, but the following year he was “recycled” back to the minors. A couple of years later, Bobby Cox called him back to the big leagues for a four-year stint as the bullpen and first base coach, and then he was “recycled” back to the minors again. Fifteen years later, Bobby Cox brought Brian back to the big leagues for a seven-year stint as his third base coach. The Braves lost to the Dodgers in the 2013 playoffs and management decided to tweak the staff. Brian learned that he was the “tweak” as he got “recycled” back to the minors for the third and final time.

Getting “recycled” to the minors after living the big league life would discourage most people, but not Brian. “I’m a baseball guy. I just dealt with it. You get ‘recycled’ and you just keep grinding. I don’t know that I was ever driven to get back to the big leagues. I was doing it because I loved it. I enjoyed the life. I enjoyed the job. I enjoyed developing the young players. I just enjoyed doing it.”

Two years later, at the age of 60, he was named the Braves interim manager. “We had to change the culture and get a better group of guys – and we did. We put together a really good staff. We held guys accountable, we were consistent, and we told our guys the truth. I told them, ‘My door is always open, but if you come in and sit down you better be ready to hear the truth.’”

Ronnie summed up the life of a baseball wife, “Brian is gone during spring training and when the season starts, half of his games are on the road. We’ve been married forty years, but we’ve only really lived together twenty years.” 

“I would drive to see Brian in spring training, stay for four or five days and wouldn’t see him again for six weeks.” They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, which might explain why both of their children were “spring training babies.” Their daughter, Erin, was born nine months after Ronnie visited spring training in 1986, and their son Troy was born nine months after she visited spring training in 1988.

“When the kids were older, I’d pack our Chevy Astro van with matching boxes that fit perfectly in the van and would bungy cord a small TV and VCR to a milk carton to keep the kids entertained during the drive," Ronnie explains. "When the boxes were unpacked, we’d use them as our summer furniture. I wore out three Chevy Astro vans during our minor league years.” Ronnie took the kids to the ballgame every night. "Erin loved to sing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' during the seventh inning stretch.” Meanwhile Troy would hang out with Brian. “Troy was born into the baseball life and raised in the clubhouse.”

Erin now lives in the Atlanta area with her husband and their three boys, 8-year-old twins and a 3-year-old. Of course, Brian and Ronnie do everything they can to spoil their grandsons! Troy followed in Brian’s footsteps, playing pro baseball in the Braves and Pirates organizations, then joining the Astros organization where he is currently the major league hitting coach. When the Braves played the Astros in the 2021 World Series, Ronnie made jackets for her and Erin. The front was half Braves and half Astros, with "Teams Divided - Hearts United" printed on the back. When asked who she rooted for in the series, she says, “Erin and I rooted for Brian and Troy, there was no losing for our family.”

Looking back, Brian says that the most difficult part of their journey was “being away from my family and my kids all the time. If it wasn’t for Ronnie, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. It took patience, trust, and love – and we’re still working on it after forty years.” Ronnie agreed, “I took every opportunity that I could to get the kids to Brian. He wouldn’t have lasted without the kids. We did what we had to do to make it work – and next thing you know, we’re backstage at the Grand Ole Opry!”

After celebrating Christmas with their family, Ronnie and Brian traveled to Hawaii to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. This month, they'll celebrate Valentine’s Day in spring training with a toast to the start of the “Baseball New Year.”