Gina Snyder hopes this summer will mark the beginning of a long coaching career. The former Arizona pitcher is serving as the head coach of the Bradenton Slice in their inaugural season in the Florida Gulf Coast League, an opportunity that “fell into her lap.”
“The owner (Ryan Moore) is actually a huge baseball guy, and he saw that I threw out the first pitch at one of the Arizona Diamondbacks games, and that’s kind of how it came about,” Snyder said. “He reached out to me on Twitter, and I didn’t even really have to think about it. I was like, ‘of course.’”
Snyder likes to give back to the next generation of players. After graduating from the UA in 2019, she started giving lessons at the Hitting Factory in Marana and working for National Scouting Report, a recruiting service that connects prospects with colleges.
Snyder had thought about going into coaching too, but it never seemed realistic until Moore came along.
“The jump to coaching felt like too big of a jump, and so I really needed that push, like someone to really reach out to me first,” Snyder explained. “So once that happened I was like, you know what, I know you’re not supposed to wait for stuff, but I guess it’s in God’s hands and He knew I needed that push. And I felt like it was a sign that if they think I’m ready, then I’m ready.“
Though this is Snyder’s first coaching position at any level, she was more excited than nervous to lead the Slice.
Besides, she was prepared for it, whether she knew it or not. Playing two seasons under Hall of Fame coach Mike Candrea gave her a strong base to build on when mini-camp opened on June 15.
“I pick up on a lot of the baserunning and infield stuff,” Snyder said. “I mean, I ran a practice and I basically used his practice plan. ... We would do hitting in the morning at one of the facilities, and then I would run a defense practice where we would do some ground ball work, infield/outfield work and then do some play situations. ... It kind of all would fall into place and I just felt like I knew what I was doing.”
That’s good because Snyder only has one assistant coach to lean on. Her pregame responsibilities include (but are certainly not limited to) throwing front toss and batting practice, then filling out the lineup card, which isn’t as easy as it looks.
“I don’t have a ton of depth, but it’s really finding where they fit the best, especially because a lot of these girls have never played together,” Snyder said.
The Slice have 14 college players, most hailing from Division I programs. They are using the FGCL to improve and recalibrate after their 2020 seasons were cut short by the coronavirus crisis.
Snyder didn’t recruit them, but they’ve already formed a tight bond. That she is only a year removed from her playing days makes her a relatable coach.
Snyder constantly checks in with her players to see how they’re feeling mentally and physically, and they’re honest with her because she’s honest with them.
“They tell me stuff that I know that they probably don’t tell their college coaches,” she said. “They’ll reach out to say like, ‘hey, we appreciate how open you are.’ Because I’ll tell them I just want you guys to get better. To my fast girls for example, I’m like, ‘if you think you can make it, go.’ And they’re like, ‘Really? Just go?’ And I’m like, ‘yeah, you’re fast, you know your speed.’ I challenge these girls and I definitely let them play loose, and really I think that’s something players need to understand is that they need to understand themselves, not be so robotic.”
Snyder likes to challenge herself too. So far during games she’s been coaching first base and calling pitches.
Saturday, she planned to coach third base for the first time, which means controlling the Slice’s running game. Not an easy ordeal for a former pitcher.
“That was the one thing I was nervous about, so I pretty much said we’ll see how it goes, but I think I’m ready now,” Snyder said Friday.
The Slice are 4-4 through eight games and, weather and health permitting, will play more than 20 times before wrapping up their season in late July. Temperature checks and social distancing measures are in place to help keep the players safe.
Snyder will continue coaching in the fall as a graduate assistant at a Division I program, the specifics of which will be announced at a later date.
From there, she can work her way up to a full-time assistant coaching position, and maybe one day she’ll be one of the 251 D1 head coaches.
That will require hard work, patience and a little bit of luck, but Snyder has beaten the odds before. This is the same person who saw her playing career come to a halt at Purdue because of a debilitating illness, only to resume it as a walk-on at Arizona after she retaught herself how to pitch in her backyard.
Coaching, she’s convinced, is her next calling.
“I’ve never felt so happy since my last game at Arizona,” Snyder said. “I kind of went through that weird phase after college where you really just don’t have a purpose, and I think what was holding me back was feeling that I just wasn’t good enough. But it’s definitely the path that I want to take now, and I know for sure that it’s gonna be worth it.”
If you want to help support Snyder and the Slice, you can donate here.