From the Sports editor: Snell’s life is in a better place now

Ian Snell shakes hands with former CR baseball coach John Newman after being introduced before Monday’s Blue Rocks’ game at Frawley Stadium. (Barbara Reed photo)

WILMINGTON — Every pitcher’s first Major League win is a dream come true.

But, even by those standards, Ian Snell’s first Big League victory was pretty cool.

On Sept. 19, 2005, the Caesar Rodney High grad allowed just three singles in eight innings in blanking the Astros, 7-0. Houston ended up going to the World Series for the first time that season.

Even better, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ young right-hander out-dueled Astros’ star Roger Clemens for the win.

“That was a big deal to me — he was a Hall-of-Fame pitcher,” said Snell. “But, honestly, he wouldn’t talk to me (after the game). I was excited. I was like, ‘Can you sign the ball?’ He’s like, ‘No.’

“But it’s all good.”

Snell, who was inducted into the Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame last week, has learned to shrug off moments like that.

Anybody who saw the Dover native play as a youngster, though, can tell you that patience and understanding were never Snell’s strong suits.

Former Caesar Rodney High standout Ian Snell, now 36, was inducted into the Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday. (Barbara Reed photo)

Competitiveness is what earned the 5-foot-11, 164-pounder a respectable seven-year Major League career (38-53 record, 639 strikeouts). But it’s competitiveness’ twin brother — stubbornness — that often got him in trouble.

The 36-year-old Snell can admit that.

Asked what ended his pitching career, Snell answers “being young and hard-headed.”

“When you’re young in the game, you think you know everything and no one can tell you anything,” he said. “You can figure it all out on your own. … My life was a little hectic. I was married young, I was going through a divorce — just personal issues.

“It’s just a constant battle in life when you’ve got things going on that don’t look good on the outside — or on the inside. I battled and battled and battled. I went to church and got my life back together. Now I’m a lot happier than I used to be.”

For a long time, turmoil seemed to follow Snell everywhere.

Early in his pro career, Snell earned some unwanted attention by changing his last name to his wife’s (Oquendo) for a couple years.

Snell said, as a pro athlete, he always liked bringing a smile to a youngster’s face. But he was also frustrated by feeling like he was constantly under a microscope.

“If you go out and you want to have a drink with your friends, or your friend comes home from the war and you take them out, people are like, ‘Why are you out?’” said Snell. “You’re a human being also. That (scrutiny) is the one thing that I really didn’t like too much.”

Snell throws out a ceremonial first pitch before Monday’s game. (Barbara Reed photo)

Then in 2010, Snell was in the spotlight again. As the lead to a story in Sports Illustrated, Snell talked about battling his personal demons — even saying that he contemplated suicide at one time.

“It was a juggling back and forth, like the angel versus the demon,” Snell was quoted in describing a desperate moment in a hotel room after a tough loss. “I felt like I was going to have a heart attack.”

Gradually, though, Snell started to sort things out.

His last Major League appearance was, perhaps fittingly, also his worst Major League start. Pitching for Seattle, Snell gave up eight runs in just 1.2 innings against Texas on June 9, 2010.

But Snell kept trying to come back.

In 2011, he signed with the Cardinals, retired a couple months later, and then signed with the Dodgers in May. The Dodgers suspended Snell for unspecified reasons in July before finally releasing him.

Snell wasn’t done, though. For three years he played in Puerto Rico, a country he represented in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

He said the experience was good for him.

“When I played in Puerto Rico, I started learning to listen, learning to feed off other teammates and get their opinions on certain things,” said Snell. “It’s made me a better person and made me open up more to teammates.”

Snell’s one last try at getting back into the game started and ended in 2013 with the independent-league Long Island Ducks.

These days, Snell lives in Florida. He likes building cars but, more than anything, he likes working with his 13-year-old son, Ethan, in various sports — none of which are baseball.

He also coaches high school girls’ soccer and lacrosse, along with coaching individual players on their baseball skills.

Ironically, Snell finds himself saying some of the same words that he blew off as a youngster when coaches lectured him.

“I’ve done a lot of guest-speaking to high school teams around the area,” said Snell, who says he would like to get more into coaching.

“Some of the parents, whose kids went to college, I talk to them and see how they’re doing and make sure their grades are OK. That’s a big thing I tell the kids — ‘Make sure your grades are a priority and then worry about the sports after.’”

Asked if the 16-year-old Snell would have listened to what the 36-year-old Snell has to say now, he just laughed.

“No,” Snell answered. “I wish I was this mature years ago but some people grow up slower than others. I guess I was a late bloomer.”

Ian Snell’s outlook on life is pretty simple these days.

“I’m just trying to be the best person I can be,” he said, “and the best dad I can be as long as I’m here.”

Injury doesn’t stop Brengle

A couple weeks ago, it didn’t look there was much chance of Madison Brengle playing at Wimbledon this year.

The veteran pro tennis player from Dover suffered a significant ankle injury after winning a first-round match at the Surbiton tournament in England on June 4. Brengle partially tore three ligaments in one of her ankles.

“They told her, when she went down, that her grass season (might be over) — and maybe even longer,” said Brengle’s mom, Gabby.

But Madison returned to Dover, saw a specialist in Philadelphia and worked on her game. Her ankle was in good enough shape that she returned to England earlier this week.

She’s slated to face 25-year-old Aleksandra Krunic in a first-round Wimbledon match on Monday.

Krunic is ranked No. 39 in the world while Brengle is currently No. 112.

“She dropped out of everything (after the injury), they told her she was going to have to drop out of Wimbledon, too,” said Gabby. “But she was like, ‘Let me just see if I can get better.’ And it did. So she went back.”

Brengle’s problem is that she also has chronic pain and swelling in her right hand. That condition is at the center of an ongoing lawsuit the Brengles filed against the WTA for blood testing.

“Actually, her ankle feels better than her hand,” said Gabby.

Brengle is 2-3 in three all-time appearances in Wimbledon’s main draw. She reached the third round a year ago.

So far, so good for Gono

Wesley College football coach Chip Knapp said he’s heard good reports about how former Wolverine Matt Gono is doing with the Atlanta Falcons, so far.

The Division III All-American is trying to make the NFL team’s roster as an undrafted free agent. With the potential of lining up at either tackle or guard, the Falcons have been putting him at tackle right now.

“He looked like he’d put on 10 pounds of muscle but he weighed the same,” said Knapp, who saw Gono last week. “There was a real good vibe from him. He’s real humble to begin with but he’s excited about his opportunities.

“They say he’s so athletic that he can handle the tackle position. And he can always go to guard.”

An unofficial depth chart this week had Gono listed third at right tackle.

Odds & ends

•Former Polytech High baseball standout Conner Chasanov, whose college pitching career was derailed by an arm injury at Delaware a couple years ago, is planning to play for Wesley College next school year.

The lefthander appeared in 12 games for the Blue Hens as a reliever in 2016.

•Knapp interviewed potential defensive coordinators for his Wesley staff last week and hopes to hire someone for the position soon.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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