Cy-chologist on the Mound

by Bob Brainerd

There is a uniqueness about Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Pitcher Cy Sneed that makes you want to bulldoze into his baseball resume and excavate the tidbits, morsels and backstories to unearth what makes this Idaho native tick.

First impressions…the hair below his nose. A strawberry blonde mustache that has been Sneed’s signature look for nearly half a decade. And what you see on Sneed’s bubble gum card in Appleton is by no means close to the look he had in the beginning. “The first day I showed up last year, (Helena Manager) Tony Diggs said to me ‘Do you have a razor?’ and I come to find out when your mustache goes down just below your chin, that is against the Brewers rules and I had to trim it up a little bit,” said Sneed, a third round pick of Milwaukee in 2014. “It’s about half the ‘stache it used to be.”

You can trace this facial hair challenge back to Sneed’s teammates in college. If one did it, the next man up has to follow suit for the good of the team, not to mention the mojo. “Boomer Collins, who plays on the Lansing Lugnuts, was a redshirt junior my freshman year,” Sneed begins. “He shows up with an impressive red beard. Beards were not allowed, but mustaches were OK, so he shaves it down. I thought that was good, so me and another teammate, Stuart Pudenz, start growing the Fu Man mustaches all the way down to sides. Stuart was our closer and he was really good, so I thought if I had that, I would be good too. I think it’s good to have something a little different, and personally, I feel like if I don’t have hair on my face, I look like I’m 12-years-old.”

And that name. Right out of Central Casting, Cy was given his moniker to honor one of the best pitchers to ever take the mound. Whose name adorns the award given to the very best in the game each year. “My parents named me Cy, and it was between Cy and Tucker,” said Sneed. “My Dad (Robert) said to my Mom ‘It’s up to you.’ And she picked Cy. They pretty much put me on this career path and I like it.”

Fun Fact: Cy has an older brother, Zeb, short for Zebulon, a pitcher in the Kansas City organization and named after a baseball teammate of their father during his playing days. Robert played two years of junior college baseball, got drafted by the New York Mets (1986) but didn’t sign, then played two years at Purdue. While his career on the diamond ended there, he did pass along his passion once his sons came into the world. “We had a batting cage that he built with a mound and would catch our bullpens when we were little,” said Sneed. “I can remember hitting a Wiffle Ball in the front yard before I was able to do anything.”

It didn’t take long for Sneed to follow in his father’s footsteps and chase the identical dream. Cy would play a year or two up because where the Sneed’s called home in Twin Falls, it just made travel easier to play on the same team with Zeb. Older competition only made Sneed succeed. “Because I could throw strikes, I knew I was going to end up pitching because I could get people out,” said Sneed. “I’ve known for a while that pitching was what I was going to do.”

Sneed threw strikes with heat and baffled high school hitters, tabbed Idaho’s Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year. It opened the eyes of major league scouts, and in 2011 Sneed was drafted in the 35th round by the Texas Rangers. But like his father, Cy didn’t feel the time was right to sign. Sneed felt there was still tinkering to be done, and Dallas Baptist University in Texas would become his collegiate proving ground. “I learned so much from pitching Coach Wes Johnson…I think he’s one of the best pitching coaches in the country,” said Sneed. “He was real big on the mental side of the game and then, obviously, on how to be physically prepared to go out and pitch. I learned a lot about feel, and when I was throwing balls, I knew where to hit the zones with my breaking ball and the same thing with my fastball. I like to say it’s like painting a house, side to side, up and down, just move it like that.”

The digits improved each year Sneed took the bump for the Patriots. Sneed became an ace by his junior year when he went 8-3, striking out 82 batters in 104 innings of work. His ERA was a compact 3.55, but he never portrayed he had all the answers. Instead, Sneed soaked up the resources at his disposal, absorbing the knowledge of coaches, catchers and big league players who hung around Texas in the fall. “Once I understood how to put my own game plan together late in my sophomore year, that’s where I feel like I made the biggest improvement,” said Sneed. “It’s also where I stopped caring about how hard I threw. I used to really care about what the (radar) gun was saying, but I got to the point in my sophomore year where I thought it doesn’t matter if it’s 95 and right down the middle, it’s better to be at 91 or 92 on a corner with a little bit of sink. Doing that actually made me relax, and I actually had a velocity jump after that so I kind of wish I would have done that sooner.”

Sneed became a student of the game, willing to devote just as much time cramming and doing pregame homework to prep for the effort he exerted on the mound. His maturation created a well-rounded and complete pitcher who was more than ready the next time his name was called in the MLB Draft. “I love the game within the game,” said Sneed. “The cat and mouse part, putting all of it into an equation to decide on a pitch and a location and getting your catcher on the same page. Executing a pitch, I think, is absolutely the most fun you can possibility have of the game within the game, and then going out and giving your team a chance to win ballgames, there’s nothing like it.”

Sneed got his feet wet after being plucked by Milwaukee with the 85th overall choice, pitching in 11 games for Helena of the Pioneer Rookie League. It was an initiation period that reaffirmed to the right-hander that pitching school would always be in session. “At this level, even in college, you can’t just roll the ball out there and play,” said Sneed. “I mean, you can, but you won’t have consistent success. You have to understand your stuff, understand the other team, what they’re trying to do and what their approach is. What it really helps you to do is to steal strikes. If you can get ahead of a guy, you give yourself such a big advantage.”

Sneed is still a thief, snagging info on how to swipe even more strikes and outs. During an early season bullpen session, Sneed was working on his breaking ball, only to have Timber Rattlers Catcher Greg McCall and Pitching Coach Gary Lucas notice an identical flaw that was fixable. “I’m kind of a visual learner, and Greg showed me what I was doing with my shoulders, when they were good and not good,” said Sneed. “And Gary is so savvy, he’s helping me with the exact same thing. I’m getting feedback from two different guys on two different angles…McCall saw I was rushing, then Gary mentioned it. Those two put something two different ways to better understand it. That kind of stuff is just invaluable.”

Sneed is surrounded by a support staff that includes his newlywed wife, Hannah. Married last November, Mrs. Sneed has joined Mr. Sneed in Wisconsin to ride the wave of this baseball journey in tandem. “It’s actually a huge plus because when you go and have a rough day at the field, or the team is struggling, you go home and, you’re home…you’re not with other guys on the team thinking the exact same things you are,” said Sneed. “You have different conversations that are beneficial because it takes your mind off of baseball and lets you relax a little bit. There were definitely times in college where we would sit around and think, we’ve lost six games in a row and the world is about to end! I don’t have that with her here because she’s constantly making sure that I’m not in deep depression because we didn’t win a baseball game or I’m not pitching well.”

With the wedding plans and memories now in a scrapbook, Cy Sneed can focus on his plan of action to succeed at his vocation and create future memories on the mound. Like any pitcher, consistency is something he craves to accomplish during his run in a Timber Rattlers uniform. With the obvious dream as his goal, Sneed’s work ethic will be put to the ultimate test. “The dream can be so alive, but it can be so dead at the same time,” said Sneed. “You can think, well, I’m a professional baseball player and I’m on my way. But you have to really check yourself by asking am I doing this in a way that is preparing to get me to the big leagues?

“Later this season, it will be a hot summer day and you don’t feel like running hard or getting after it in the bullpen. When you give yourself that gut check of is this helping me get better, is this helping me get to the big leagues, and you’re honest with yourself, I think that’s the biggest thing to keep that dream alive and active.”