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Bucs' Snell proud to get Opener nod

Bucs' Snell proud to get Opener nod

Ian Snell started out by brushing off the news that he had been named the team's Opening Day starter, insisting that it really wasn't that big of a deal.

"It's just another game," Snell shrugged, sitting in front of his stall in the McKechnie Field clubhouse.

He had been called into manager John Russell's office a day earlier, which was actually one day after Snell stood next to general manager Neal Huntington as the team announced it had signed the 26-year-old right-hander to a multi-year deal.

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But after initially giving the "it's-really-not-that-big-of-a-deal" response, Snell admitted that there was a little pride factor.

He had wanted the Opening Day start last year, when it was instead given to Zach Duke. And though he admitted that he anticipated Russell giving the nod this year to Tom Gorzelanny -- who led the team with 14 wins in 2007 -- Snell wanted it again this season.

"I'm happy because it's just another one of my goals," Snell added. "It's just another goal that I accomplished. I'm very pleased and I'm excited. I'm not going to let them down."

Though Gorzelanny's 14 wins in '07 was his way of lobbying for the Opening Day start in Atlanta, Snell had a pretty convincing argument himself. The right-hander led the Pirates' staff in ERA (3.76), strikeouts (177) and innings pitched (208). He shared the staff lead -- along with Gorzelanny -- with 32 starts.

Snell's ERA fell among the 15 lowest in the National League, while both his strikeouts and innings pitched totals were in the league's top 10.

But in order to truly understand Snell, you have to know that the pitcher takes the mound each start with a chip on his shoulder. No matter how many games he's won, how low his ERA dips or what type of contract he signs, Snell is still out to prove people wrong. He is convinced that none of the above has satisfied everyone quite yet.

"I'm just trying to show what hard work does," Snell said. "I had to pitch behind all the No. 1 picks and everyone that was before me. I was never a prospect, ever, until like the last two years in my Minor League career. I just want to show people that I work hard and this is what I accomplish."

Having been a 26th-round pick in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, Snell has been showing people what hard work can accomplish for years now. Still, the doubt keeps driving him.

He was labeled as too small, too frail to make it in the Majors. And if he was going to make it, it would certainly be as a reliever, scouts said. He would never be an elite pitcher, Snell remembers hearing.

So when he takes the mound for that March 31 start, not only will he do so with the task of trying to earn Russell win No. 1 in his managerial career, but he'll do so showing that he's earned another accolade that many never imagined. He will take that mound with pride.

"There's the pressure that you have to show everybody why you were named and why you got this contract," Snell said. "I'm just going to go out there and do my job."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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