World Series MVP George Springer Is Still A Little Kid At Heart
The 8-year-old George Springer was out there, out in the bleachers looking at a real ballplayer and hoping for a glimpse.
Torii Hunter gave a little more than a glimpse, or an autograph. He gave a moment of himself, began playing catch with the skinny little guy at New Britain Stadium.
Half a lifetime later, Springer and Hunter met in spring training.
“[Former Astros manager Bo Porter] came to me and said, ‘There’s a kid named George Springer, and he knows you, he really wants to talk to you again,'” Hunter told The Courant in 2015. “I thought for a minute and said, ‘Hey, I remember that kid.'” Then [Springer] came up and said, ‘Hey, I was a kid in the stands in New Britain and I used to play catch with you, talk to you all the time.’
“I couldn’t believe it. I get chills thinking about it.”
The 28-year-old George Springer is the most talked-about baseball player, if not athlete, in the country at the moment, the MVP of the Houston Astros’ World Series victory over the Dodgers. From Hartford, where The Hartford Tower sign changed to Astros’ orange on Thursday night, to Houston, where a big parade will be staged Friday, and beyond.
And Springer has risen to this point without forgetting the little kid within – the undersized kid who stuttered – nor the others out there. Paying Hunter’s attention forward, he has maintained an instant, natural rapport with kids, and his youthful exuberance.
The children, as the saying goes, are listening.
“You’ve got to have a lot of little boy in you to be good at this game,” said Jim Penders, who coached Springer at UConn. “And he’s never lost that little boy.”
Penders remembered that when he went to recruit Springer at Avon Old Farms, he had his children with him. And Springer spent more time talking to them. When he played at UConn, Springer’s most frequent seatmate on the bus was Hank Penders, about 7, and they played the same video games. Avon Old Farms coach Rob Dowling, too, once said Springer quickly became his son’s favorite player, playing Wiffle Ball with him. “George just has a magnetism, and it works on people of all ages,” Dowling said.
Hank Penders, now a freshman at East Catholic-Manchester, watched with his father Wednesday night as Springer doubled, and then homered, to start the Astros on their way to the title-clinching 5-1 victory. He sat transfixed, as he did the day he first met Springer.
“He couldn’t take his eyes off George,” Penders said. “Last night, it was the same kind of thing.”
When Springer hit his 44th home run for UConn in 2011, breaking Mike Olt’s school record, a young fan chased the ball in the foliage beyond the wall at J.O. Christian Field. When he brought the ball back, Springer said, “I’ll trade-ja” and gave the kid his batting gloves.
Last winter, a 7-year-old fan came to Springer’s rescue, so to speak. When rumors were swirling that Springer could be traded, Will Erickson wrote a letter to Astros GM Jeff Luhnow.
“Dr. Mr. Luhnow. Hi. My name is Will and I live in Texas. Please don’t trade George Springer. These are the reasons: 1. He is my favorite player. 2. I get my hair cut like his. 3. He is a team leader.”
Luhnow did not trade Springer. He posted the letter on social media and it created a stir. A month later, Springer invited Will and his family to the ballpark for a personal tour, and haircuts. Will told Springer he was so excited to get a George Springer bobblehead doll for Christmas, he dropped and broke it.
When Springer reached the major leagues in 2014, he talked openly about his stutter, how he worked to overcome it, get past it. He became a spokesman for SAY, the Stuttering Association For The Young, with a passion for bringing confidence to children who need to develop it.
“I can’t spread a message to adults and young people if I’m not willing to put myself out there,” Springer says on a video on SAY’s website. “It’s extremely isolating, debilitating. It’s the worst feeling you could have, to know whatever it is you have to say, you can’t say it.”
His parents saw him begin to withdraw. Springer felt ridiculed, even bullied. That changed as he became a more famous athlete. Since breaking out as a major league star, Springer has never shied from interviews. He was mic’d up and interviewed while on the field in the All-Star Game last summer, and in the moment of his life, he appeared unabashedly on national TV, an estimated 28.2 million watching as he accepted the MVP Trophy.
“Nothing he does on the field surprises me,” Penders said. “My heart beats faster whenever he gets a microphone in front of him than it ever does when he’s in the batter’s box or in the outfield. And yet, he’s mastered that now, too. He did not hit a wrong note the entire World Series. As soon as they hand him the MVP trophy, he immediately deflects it to his teammates. He points to the stands and thinks about the little people. There is nothing more powerful. He made a good impression on a lot of people.”
As a rookie, Springer appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated on May 30, 2014, the headline predicting the young Astros would win the World Series in 2017. In his fourth major league season, Springer played a big part in making it happen, hitting .283 with 34 homers and 85 RBI.
In the postseason, he hit .412 with a home run as the Astros eliminated the Red Sox in the Division Series. Though he struggled at bat, going 3-for-26 against the Yankees in the ALCS, he impacted the series with spectacular catches in center field. When he caught the final out, with his glove hand hoisted high above his head, it was with the same motion with which he caught a final out in a youth league championship game.
Then in the World Series, Springer started with four strikeouts in Game 1. But he hit a game-winning homer in the 11th inning of Game 2, and went on to homer in each of the last four games. Only Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley have hit five homers in a World Series. After the game, he was handed the Willie Mays Award as Series MVP.
“I used to go in the backyard with my dad,” Springer told reporters in Los Angeles, “and he would hit fly balls to me and I would pretend to be Willie Mays.”
“He casts a shine so bright, there’s plenty to share. But most wouldn’t be apt to do that, but he finds it natural to do.”— UConn coach Jim Penders
Springer can be just about anything he wants to be right now, the 28-year-old George as well as the 8-year-old. The platform to which he has mounted this week has such reach.
“He’s certainly not going to waste it,” Penders said. “I know that. His head has always been on straight, his priorities in order, his parents have made sure of that. Whatever that spotlight affords him, he’s going to share it, for good.”
View George Springer