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Snow is no stranger to high expectations. As the son of former star Notre Dame and Los Angeles Ram wide receiver Jack Snow, he has always had a name to live up to in Southern California. In fact, Jack, now a broadcaster for Los Angeles radio station KMPC, announced the deal that brought his boy home.
"I was doing a Ram game at Tampa Bay when the station called to say the Angels had made a trade," Jack recalls. "Then they gave me the particulars, and I about froze when I heard J.T.'s name. I was going to give the announcement to play-by-play man Paul Olden, but I "grabbed the mike and did it myself. The difficult part was maintaining my objectivity on my talk show that week. At one point I made the comment that trading Abbott was a hell of a gamble and that if I'd had the responsibility, I don't know that I'd have done it."
Actually it was Jack, the old gridder, who kept J.T. ("He's Jack Thomas Jr.," says the father, "but Jack didn't seem right for him") in baseball. The boy was such a standout in three sports while growing up in Seal Beach, Calif., that he was wearing himself to a nubbin playing them year round. One day, at 15, he went to his father and said that he wanted to give up at least one sport.
"Well," said Jack, "it won't be baseball," knowing full well that J.T. preferred football and basketball but that his future was on the diamond. As it turned out, young Snow continued to play all three sports at Los Alamitos High, earning major-college scholarship offers in each, but he concentrated on baseball at Arizona and finished his three-year career with the Wildcats as a .333 hitter.
Last year, his fourth as a Yankee farmhand, J.T. hit .313 with 26 doubles, four triples, 15 homers and 78 RBIs for Triple A Columbus. Although lefthanded, at his father's suggestion he has been a switch-hitter since Little League. Also with help from his father—"I'd throw 50 balls in the dirt to him at a time," Jack says—J.T. has become a brilliant fielder. "As an athlete myself," says Jack, "I knew the value of the work ethic."
Herzog compares J.T. defensively to Don Mattingly, the first sacker Snow would have been obliged to compete with had he remained a Yankee, and thinks Snow has the potential to be Mattingly's equal at the plate. J.T. cringes at the thought. "Talk about pressure," he says. "What if I'd had to replace that guy, a future Hall of Famer?"
J.T. is an athletically structured (6'2", 205 pounds), good-looking man who projects an intriguing combination of youthful exuberance and mature composure. "If you're the son of an All-Pro, you grow up with pressure," he says. "But I'm not trying to fill anyone's shoes. I keep thinking how Wally Joyner had to replace Rod Carew at first base here. That's pressure. It's the way you handle it and channel it that counts. We're all young guys on this team, and I think we'll feed off one another, help each other through the ups and downs. My approach is that nothing's ever given to you. I've got to prove I belong here."
Salmon, 24, is an even more exciting prospect as the Angels' new right-fielder. Tabbed for stardom from his days at Phoenix's baseball-happy Grand Canyon College, for which he set career home run (51) and RBI (192) records, he struggled his first three years in the minors, averaging .253. Then in 1992 he summoned up all his formidable talent, hit .347 and led the Pacific Coast League in homers (29) and RBIs (105).
Salmon missed the Triple Crown by .004 in batting average but was named the league's MVP. He led all minor leagues in extra-base hits (71) and slugging percentage (.672) and was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year. He's 6'3" and almost 220 pounds, and he has a natural righthanded power swing. Herzog envisions Salmon not only as the power hitter the Angels so desperately need but also as a "complete player who can field and throw."
Salmon was born near Snow, in Long Beach (though he grew up in Phoenix), and he, too, shrugs off the pressures applied to him by a prayerful front office and a skeptical public. "I'm not going to concede to any pressure," he says, almost resentfully. "That's something you put on yourself. I know what I can do. I'll do the same things I'm capable of."