Blake Snell gave typically candid answers during a 15-minute Zoom session on Tuesday, prior to Game 1 of the World Series.
But only once did Snell become truly animated: When a Seattle reporter mentioned that Husky football coach Jimmy Lake had given him a shout out before his start against the Toronto Blue Jays in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
“OK, what did he say?” Snell said excitedly as he “put his dubs up” – a hand gesture replicating the letter W. “I’ve been texting him – I’ve been texting him throughout the playoffs – but I didn’t see what he said.”
When the reporter – OK, you guessed it; it was me – relayed the gist of Lake’s message, that Snell’s support of the Huskies was an inspiration to the team – Snell replied, “Love it. Go Dawgs. Love it.”
A piece of Snell’s heart will always be with his beloved Huskies, but the Shorewood High School graduate – who committed to play baseball for UW before the Rays changed his plans by drafting him in the first round – has more pressing matters at the moment. Like his looming start in the Fall Classic on Wednesday in Game 2 against the Dodgers.
Actually, Snell has the capacity to multi-task both his passions – the Rays and the Dawgs. In a phone interview Tuesday night after Husky practice and meetings had concluded, Lake revealed how Snell never has the Huskies completely off his mind, except perhaps when he’s on the mound.
Lake said that after the Rays clinched the American League pennant by winning Game 7 over the Astros on Saturday, he shot Snell a congratulatory text.
“We’re going back and forth about how he’s going to the World Series, and then he texted me back: ‘Hey, coach, how’s the quarterback battle going?’ ‘’ Lake recalled with a laugh. “The next thing was recruiting. He knows everybody – who we’re going after, who’s committed. I gave him some information, but then I said, ‘You know you’re going to the World Series, right?’ ”
Lake says their relationship goes back to his days as the Huskies’ defensive coordinator. Lake knew from social media that Snell was a huge Husky fan, and being a baseball fan, he also knew of Snell’s prowess.
“One time he just direct messaged me and said, ‘Hey, I respect what you’ve done with the defense and the DBs. I would love to just chop it up with you sometime,’ ’’ Lake said. “Then we got on the phone and started talking.
“What’s so cool about Blake is he is just always trying to get an edge and get information from people he thinks are successful. He told me stories about guys he’s reached out to and tried to bend their ear a little bit and figure out how they became successful in whatever line of work they’re in.”
Lake eventually invited Snell to practice and afterward let him sit in on one of his position meetings.
“He looked like a kid in a candy store,’’ he said.
Standout defensive back Myles Bryant happened to come into the office while Snell was there and asked Lake if he could watch film of that day’s practice and all his plays in the five previous games. Bryant said he had no problem with Snell staying.
“Again, you could just see Blake was giddy with excitement,” Lake said. “He sat there the whole time, listened to the back and forth between Myles Bryant and myself, and he loved every second of it. You could just tell, he’s just passionate about people that are trying to be great in their sport. And it was just really cool to see.”
It isn’t a one-way relationship, either. Snell gave Lake a quote – “Pressure is a privilege” – that the coach liked so much he used it to inspire his defense prior to a game last season.
“I showed the team him in the playoffs last year,” Lake recalled. “The bases were loaded, and they brought him in, and they had to get two outs. And he talked about how pressure is a privilege. If you have pressure on you and you’re in that big moment, it’s because you have trained and you’ve prepared, and you’re good enough to get the job done.
“So I’ve used him. He’s inspired me. I’ve used him to inspire our defense. From then on, we’ve always texted each other. He texted me after any recruiting wins, and after games. I’m always shooting him texts when he performs well. It’s been an awesome relationship, and I wish him the best in the World Series.”
Snell has made an All-Star team and won a Cy Young Award – both in 2018 – but when he faces the Dodgers Wednesday, and probably at least one other time, it will be a golden opportunity to make his mark on a national stage.
Raising his profile isn’t a paramount goal for Snell, who says he’s laser focused on his team getting four more wins. But Snell, 27, has the kind of personality and presence that could make him stand out among what, frankly, is a relatively anonymous Tampa Bay team. At least compared to the star power of the Dodgers.
Snell has a fun vibe about him, on display on his Twitch channel, ClassiclyFamous, and evidenced during the first MLB The Show Players League Tournament in the midst of baseball’s shutdown. Snell roared to the virtual “World Series” championship over Lucas Giolito.
Snell also has a fiery spirit, which came out during the American League Championship Series when he was openly unhappy with being pulled in the fifth inning of a Game 6 loss to Houston.
It also was revealed, somewhat infamously, in May when Snell declared that it wasn’t worth it to him to play this year for a reduced salary.
“I gotta get my money,’’ Snell said back then on his streaming channel. “I’m not playing unless I get mine, okay? And that’s just the way it is for me. Like, I’m sorry you guys think differently, but the risk is way the hell higher and the amount of money I’m making is way lower, why would I think about doing that?”
Snell later apologized for saying, “I gotta get mine,’’ but stood by the rest. And he obviously changed his mind about playing in 2020, to the eternal gratitude of the Rays. With three frontline starters – Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton – and a bevy of power arms in relief, the Rays are fully capable of bringing down the favored Dodgers. And Snell has the stuff to be a huge factor.
“I know when he’s on the mound and he’s got a couple pitches working for him, he’s pretty fearless,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said Tuesday. “He can beat you many different ways, whether it’s fastball-changeup, fastball-slider, and if he’s got three or four of those pitches going, that’s when he has those elite level games.”
Though outfielder Randy Arozarena has created some buzz with a sensational postseason performance, the Rays are far from household names. But Snell doesn’t feel snubbed.
“I’d say we’re at a point now where last year we were kind of overlooked, when we made it to the playoffs and lost in the ALDS,’’ he said. “I felt like this year, a lot of people knew about us Just not a lot of people talked about us. … I just know our team, the depth we have. The last couple of years I’ve really felt we could do something special. This is a moment to try to do something special.”
As a bonus, about 15 of Snell’s family and friends from Seattle have made the trip to Arlington, where the Rays will play in front of fans for the first time all season at the Rangers’ new Globe Life Field. That includes his mom, dad, three brothers, his older brother’s two kids, an aunt, uncle, and “a couple of my best friends.”
“All the people I grew up around, they’re all showing a lot of love and support,’’ he said. “I’m excited to see them from a distance. This is a very special moment, and I’m happy they’re here to be a part of it. But we have to do our thing and win this thing. That’s the big thing about them being here – we’ve got to win it.”
And if the Rays do win the World Series, Jimmy Lake will no doubt send him a congratulatory text. And Snell will probably still want to know how the quarterback battle is going.