WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The question would come shortly after Cy Sneed would write his name on the chalkboard. A young hand would rise into the air, and Sneed would brace himself for the chuckles that were sure to soon fill the classroom."Are you a lumberjack?":: Spring Training coverage
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The question would come shortly after Cy Sneed would write his name on the chalkboard. A young hand would rise into the air, and Sneed would brace himself for the chuckles that were sure to soon fill the classroom.
"Are you a lumberjack?"
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Sneed, who stands 6-foot-4 with a thick beard that Evan Gattis and Dallas Keuchel would wholeheartedly endorse, certainly looks the part and probably could chop down a few trees if you need him to. While he spent the offseason at his home in Alaska hunting bears and caribou -- and serving as a substitute teacher -- Sneed is not a lumberjack. He's a right-handed pitcher for the Astros organization with big league aspirations.
At age 26, Sneed doesn't appear on any prospect lists, and he is in big league camp for the second time with Houston. He spent last season at Triple-A Fresno, going 10-6 with a 3.83 ERA in 26 games (20 starts) in 127 innings.
Sneed, acquired from the Brewers in exchange for Jonathan Villar in 2015, comes from a baseball family. His older brother, Zeb, was drafted by the Royals in the 11th round in '12. His father, Robert, was drafted in the 42nd round by the Mets in 1986 and didn't sign. He's a Nevada state trooper.
A native of Idaho who lives in Kenai, Alaska, Cy Sneed is an avid outdoorsman who has spent the past three offseasons as a substitute teacher and as a general tutor for students at Alaska Christian College. He's been a sub in everything from math to physical education to history, but this past winter, he had a three-week stint as a Latin teacher. Sneed made $120 per day.
"It's a very humbling experience when a fifth-grader obviously knows a lot more about Latin than you do, or really any subject," said Sneed, who has a degree in business management from Dallas Baptist University. "It was good. The kids are really good, and the school and the staff there was great. It was actually a lot of fun."
When he's not in the classroom in the winter, Sneed is outside. He loves cold weather -- he lives in Alaska, after all -- and hunts antelope, deer and elk and fishes for trout. He posted a picture on his Twitter feed on Nov. 23 that showed his beard with icicles on it. He was hunting in minus-15-degree weather.
Life in Alaska means an occasional black bear in the yard or a moose at the side of the road. It's nothing out of the ordinary. Because Sneed grew up in Idaho, he said living in Alaska -- where his wife, Hannah, is from -- isn't drastically different.
"Climate-wise, it's a little bit colder, a little bit darker," Sneed said. "It's not really that big of a deal. This year was a little bit of an unseasonably warm fall and winter. We didn't get snow until pretty late. That was kind of a bummer, because I like the snow."
The cold climate presents challenges for his baseball workouts. Fortunately, Sneed has friends that own a lodge that's closed in the winter, so he sets up a mattress in the basement and plays toss against it to keep up with his mechanics.
"I'm only throwing about 40 feet," Sneed said. "I'm not worried about what the ball's doing, I'm worried about what my body is doing, and then when I come out and throw to more distance on my bullpen and sides and stuff, the ball is doing naturally what I need it to do."
When it's time to head south for Spring Training, Sneed and his wife travel in stages. First they drive to his native Idaho a month before camp, and he starts serious throwing, including long toss. Then they make their way to Oklahoma City, where his brother lives. Then it's down to Dallas Baptist for a few days and, finally, onto West Palm Beach. It's a 5,000-mile trip that takes 9-10 days of driving 10 hours per day.
The sun, palm trees and well-manicured fields are a long way from the Alaskan wilderness, but it's a unique life Sneed wouldn't trade.
"We make it work," Sneed said. "I can't complain."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.