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Starting Nine: Snitker’s train set and those presents that define us all

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On the gift the Braves manager cherishes 65 years later, the ball this writer appreciates now more than ever and your most meaningful Christmas gifts.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves
Said Brian Snitker of the train his grandfather gifted him when the Braves manager was born. “It’s still running really good.”
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Writers go hunting for cliche content this time of the year. It’s timely, and frankly, it’s easy. That hunt was playing itself out during Braves manager Brian Snitker’s availability last week when he was asked about what gift he’d give his team for Christmas.

“I’ve already gotten two pretty good gifts already for Christmas as far as the team thing goes,” Snitker said, in reference to the twin one-year deals Atlanta inked right-handed pitchers Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to in November. But then Snitker got wistful, as he discussed what he called “probably one of the greatest gifts I ever got.”

Under the tree in the baseball memorabilia-filled room in Snitker’s home is a train set that his grandfather gave the manager when he was born 65 years ago. “It’s still running really good,” Snitker said, though now a grandpa himself, noted “I gotta keep my grandsons from running the throttle too high because they’ll run them off the tracks.”

It was Snitker being Snitker, heart on his sleeve and it got me thinking about baseball and Christmas gifts and grandfathers.

Those things all tied together on Christmas 1990, when I was gifted a ball signed by Cecil Fielder. Exactly four months prior, I sat in Tiger Stadium with my dad and grandpa, watching Fielder outdo the A’s Bash Brothers and nearly every other slugger who had ever taken a swing in the venerable old park.

First inning, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire went back-to-back off the Tigers’ Frank Tanana. Fielder followed with a three-run blast and then in the fifth inning, the Detroit first baseman went yard again, this time a titanic blast that cleared the left field wall, the bleachers, and the confines of the park itself. To that point, only Harmon Killebrew (1962) and Frank Howard (1968) had ever hit out completely out of that part of the stadium, where the roof was 94 feet high and the fence 340 feet. It took something ridiculous to clear those confines and Fielder delivered one a 3-1 fastball from menacing Oakland starter Dave Stewart.

I might as well have been witnessing the moon landing, and I’ll never forget the NSFW exclamation my grandfather blurted out when we watched that ball bounce twice before it fell over the edge out onto Michigan and Trumbull.

That Christmas, I unwrapped a ball that summed all that up, Fielder’s curly scrawl perfectly centered, the treasure in a case with a plate bearing his name.

The ball was packed up, the years and moves allowing this piece of memorabilia to get lost within the others I’d accumulated over time, the twin pitfalls of being a baseball fan and a history as a reporter with access to pieces of the game I covered. But that ball came out three years ago when my grandfather passed, and a number of items from the corner of his baseball room had been given to me and joined it on my bookshelves. Time and loss making me cherish what I cast aside now more than ever.

Snitker’s train got those thoughts flowing, on baseball and grandpas and Christmas gifts, and it sparked a thought. Call it cliche. Call it hunting for content that’s timely, and frankly, easy, but I wanted this Starting Nine to be yours. To be about those gifts that mattered and about those people and those relationships that, to us, are baseball.

So, as I sit here with this Cecil Fielder ball on my desk as I write and memories turning over, I give way to all of you as we run through my nine favorite responses as I asked for the best Braves or baseball-related Christmas gifts you’ve ever received.

1. That’s One Grand Gift

Hard to beat this one, as @pelkopolis was given second base from Game 3 of the 2018 National League Division Series, the bag that Ronald Acuña Jr. touched when, at 20 years, 293 days, he bested the legendary Mickey Mantle’s record for the youngest player to hit a grand slam in the postseason.

2. Take Your Seat

While we’re discussing baseball and grandfathers and stuck in our feelings, @AndyMo701’s steps in with another reason to grab a tissue.

3. In The Nick Of Time

Christmas + tickets |+ Nick Markakis + a walk-off was enough to bring a grown man to tears. Twice. We’ll let @HolyCityAndre take it from here.

4. Better Put A Ring On It

Spoiler alert: @Masscoop77 did after being gifted a Chipper Jones signed jersey.

5. This Guy’s Parents, For the Win

Sticking with CJ10, @andlukethinks’ parents may not have been into baseball, but they knew how to give one helluva gift.

6. Sister Act

The gift is great. But what truly matters is what it makes you feel when you see it, years later. Case in point:

7. Trend-Setter

Dads go to great lengths for our kids. It’s what we do. @PapaDell DM’d a great story about his father coming up big in Dec. 2014 when he wanted an authentic Tim Hudson jersey for Christmas, a herculean feat coming days after Hudson was dealt to the Braves. But @PapaDell’s dad came through and, as he wrote “I will forever claim that I had the first Tim Hudson Brave jersey in existence. Being able to wear that to school before they were even being produced felt like a superpower.”

8. A Capital Gift

This gift wasn’t stand out, but the fact that @joshlogan2006’s caps lock took over mid-sentence elevated to a level it had no business getting to.

9. Debbie Downer Still Lives Here

Cue the “Wah-Wah” sound effect. @UVApolitics87’s entry was so incredibly 2020, but it came with a twinge of hopefulness, and this time of year, it’s something we all need.

Whatever’s under your tree, be it Braves, baseball or not, wishing everyone a safe and healthy Christmas.