Decades later, Ronnie Snitker reconnects with lifesaving doctor

May 12th, 2024
From left to right, Brian Snitker, Wiley Ballard (son of Dr. Perry Ballard) and Ronnie Snitker.

ATLANTA -- Wiley Ballard was introduced to Braves manager Brian Snitker’s wife, Ronnie, while attending a get-together with his Bally Sports co-workers after the final game of the 2023 regular season.

“I was introduced as, ‘Hey this is Wiley, he’s the stat guy from the truck,’” Ballard said. “I said, ‘It’s nice to meet you, I think you might know my father Perry Ballard.’ She just melted right in front of me.”

To understand the emotions created from this introduction, you have to go back to 1993, when Ronnie was diagnosed with breast cancer. The Braves helped her find the best care, which led to a meeting with highly recommended oncologist Dr. Perry Ballard, who welcomed Wiley to this world that same year.

“It was a little brush with mortality, but she was a joy to take care of,” Dr. Ballard said. “She tolerated chemotherapy like a champion and she went on with her life. She’s one of my heroes.”

Ronnie dealt with the chemotherapy and 16 different surgical procedures, including a double mastectomy, while raising two children, Erin and Troy, who were 6 and 4, respectively when their mother was first diagnosed.

Erin Snitker, Brian Snitker, Ronnie Snitker and Troy Snitker pose for a photo.

Erin is a mother of three and works in the medical field. Troy has served as the Astros’ hitting coach since 2019.

With the Astros concluding a three-game series at Yankee Stadium just as the Braves arrived in New York to prepare for this weekend’s series against the Mets, Ronnie got an early Mother’s Day gift -- a chance to have breakfast with Troy on Thursday morning.

“We’re just so blessed that we had her through all of this,” Troy said. “Dad might not still be in baseball and I might not be in baseball.”

Brian Snitker’s celebrated story of loyalty and dedication may have evolved much differently without the strength and determination his wife provided him and their children. The cancer diagnosis came a little more than a decade after two-time World Series-winning manager Cito Gaston introduced Brian and Ronnie in Bradenton, Fla. Gaston and the Braves’ current manager were young coaches who roomed together in the Instructional League.

Snitker has become one of the best managers in franchise history, leading the Braves to six division titles and a World Series championship. But most of his journey was spent in Minor League towns, where Ronnie would bring the kids to live every summer.

Hank Aaron, who was the Braves’ farm director at the time, gave Snitker his first coaching job in 1980. Snitker was just 26 when he was named manager of Single-A Anderson in 1982. He was Atlanta’s bullpen coach in 1985 and he served as Atlanta’s third base coach from 2007-2013. Every other year in between 1982 and 2016, he was serving as a coach or manager in the Braves’ Minor League system.

“It's unbelievable to think how much our mother did to make sure everybody was able to do what they wanted or needed,” Troy Snitker said. “My sister and I were always able to play sports when at home [in Atlanta]. The last day of school, mom would have the car packed and we’d go wherever dad was for the summer. Then we’d get back home the night before school began again.”

Being a baseball mom or baseball wife often requires an incredible amount of sacrifice. Ronnie’s challenges multiplied three decades ago, when she beat cancer and then received good news when she would make her annual visit to Dr. Ballard each of the next five years that followed.

“Every time I’d go in to his office, he had new pictures on the wall, pictures that his kids had drawn,” Ronnie Snitker said. “We talked about his kids all of the time. But I never met any of them until that night.”

A long time has passed since Wiley Ballard drew those pictures that decorated his dad’s office. He is a rising star in the sports television world. He spent the first six weeks of this season serving as the in-game reporter during Bally’s Braves broadcasts.

While attending a luncheon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run last month, Ronnie approached Wiley, put her hand on his shoulder and said, “His dad saved my life.”

Dr. Perry Ballard and his son, Wiley Ballard.

Thirty-plus years later, the worlds have reconnected. Dr. Ballard has always admired the Snitkers’ success from afar. Now he can proudly watch his son help tell the story about a family that has thrived thanks to Ronnie’s strength and courage.

“When you get older, you realize just how much sacrifice there was,” Troy Snitker said. “I’m sure there were a lot of things she wanted to do that she didn’t want to do because she was keeping us together as a family.”