Former Lakes High School standout hopes to make his mark with Chicago Dogs
If "Big Z" can rediscover his "A" game and throw another no-hitter for a Chicago baseball team, his teammate D.J. Snelten might be there.
Snelten was 16 and a student at Lakes Community High School in 2008 when Zambrano, then 27 and in the prime of his Cubs career, no-hit the Astros at Miller Park on a September night. The game had been moved from Houston to Milwaukee due to Hurricane Ike. Snelten sat in the stands with his dad, Don.
"The biggest memory I have about that game specifically was telling my dad I didn't want to go to school the next day because I thought Ted Lilly was going to throw a no-hitter," Snelten said. "I had to turn the radio on while I was in history class, only to find out that (Lilly) was through seven innings without giving up a hit. I remember just sitting there (in school) being as sour as anyone possibly could be."
Snelten is happy these days.
The 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher, who turns 27 May 29, signed with the second-year Chicago Dogs of the Independent League American Association in April. Not only is he getting the chance to play pro baseball again, but he's a teammate of Zambrano. A Cubs fan growing up, Snelten made his major-league debut with the San Francisco Giants last year.
"Any opportunity that I get to play with a Chicago legend such as Zambrano is such a blessing," Snelten said. "I'm really excited to be able to watch him and learn from him. I'll take anything I can and run with it."
Snelten isn't the only local high school product looking to learn from former big-leaguers Zambrano and manager Butch Hobson. Lefty Rich Mascheri (Wauconda) returns after leading the Dogs with a 2.34 ERA last year. The roster also includes pitchers Ben Allison (Batavia), Scott Firth (Stevenson) and Austin Wright (Conant).
The Dogs open their season on May 17 against the Gary SouthShore RailCats at Impact Field in Rosemont.
Snelten considers himself just like any other player in Independent League ball. He's looking to prove he can still play the game at a high level. After appearing in 4 games with the Giants last year, he was eventually designated for assignment and claimed off waivers by Baltimore. After trending upward for a couple of years in a row, he was trending downward.
"The primary issue for me last year was I had an underlying shoulder injury that stayed dormant for a very long time," Snelten said. "I was feeling a lot of discomfort in my shoulder, and it obviously was hindering my performance as an athlete. I just got too scared to tell anybody because I saw my lifetime dream in my grasp."
Snelten says he was diagnosed with shoulder atrophy, but it was nothing major, and no surgery was required. After the season, he didn't throw a baseball for 14 weeks.
"It was essentially dead arm at a new level," Snelten said. "No matter how hard I tried to throw, it just didn't feel right coming out of my hand until I took time off and trained with my brother (John) at Prime Athletics (in Grayslake). I was able to get my shoulder strength back and everything went back to normal, if not even better."
Baltimore released him at the end of spring training, but it didn't take him long to find work with the Dogs. He's healthy -- and motivated.
"I feel the best that I've ever felt," Snelten said. "I've never felt more ready to be on the mound than I am at this moment."