Springer brings perspective to life and baseball
Astros rookie slugger embraced speech challenge and confronted it head-on
Spend any time with George Springer and it's easy to tell he's a high-energy, big-personality type of guy. He brings a 1,000-rpm mentality to his game -- a big reason why he's one of the more exciting prospects in baseball and giving the Houston Astros a boost in their outfield.
There have been times, though, when his tendency to go a mile a minute has tripped him up. Not between the lines -- though he does need to pace himself there, as well -- but with his speech.
Springer has a stutter. These days, it's not something people would necessarily notice. But in his youth, in his middle-school and early-high school days, it was pretty noticeable.
Yet Springer never saw it as a problem. And please, don't ever call it an impediment.
"I've never seen it as an issue," said Springer, still less than two weeks into his Major League career. "I understand it makes me who I am. I've always had that mentality, even from a young age, when you're in school and a little more self-conscious of it then. But it didn't prohibit it me from being a kid and doing the stuff I wanted to do.
"It's not an issue, because it doesn't hold me back. Some people have blue eyes, some people have blond hair, some people don't. Some people stutter and some people don't. People who do have it have to deal with it just like those who don't [have to deal with other things]."
Support from family and friends
Children can be cruel, and it's not uncommon for them to feed on a peer's perceived weakness. Springer was lucky to avoid the slings and arrows of playground teasing or taunting. Some of that has to do with the kids he came across. Much of it clearly came from the positive vibes Springer himself put out there. If Springer didn't identify his stutter as a weakness, that didn't leave potential bullies any place to go.
"I was extremely fortunate to be around a great group of kids," Springer recalled. "They understood it. Every once in a while, someone would laugh or something like that. At the same time, I would laugh, too. There was never anybody or anyone or anything that affected me. They understood that I didn't want to do it, I didn't try to do it. That's been the prime focus for me, to get past it. It is what it is. You can't let it prohibit you from going out and living a life.
"I know for my own personal standpoint, embracing it is what helped me. I was able to go about it, and at the end of the day, if I stutter, I do. If I don't, I don't. I can't keep it wholly from happening."
Some people are just wired that way, with an ability to see the positive in what most would view as a burden. Springer clearly has that in his DNA, with some nurturing help from his parents, George II and Marie. They created an environment in which it was very clear to Springer and his two younger sisters that the best thing anyone can do, stutter or not, is not pretend to be someone you're not.
"Life isn't always how you want it," Springer said. "Things aren't always going to go your way. "I was always taught to have fun, enjoy life and don't let anything I can't control stop me from being who I am. That's a big credit to my mom and dad, who instilled that in me from the time I was young. Be who you are and just enjoy it. Life is too short. Enjoy every opportunity that you get."
It was Springer's parents who helped their son learn how to deal with his stutter. Sure, he worked with speech therapists, but it was his parents' fairly simple reminder that really helped him get to the point where he could communicate more freely.
"My mom and dad always say, 'Slow down before you talk,'" Springer explained. "That would help me. I'd get excited, it'd get bad. I've always been told since I was a kid, 'Slow yourself down, think before you talk. Slow your train of thought down, your speech down, and just talk.'"
Springer also developed techniques to help him along the way. He'll stop himself internally, especially when he feels his mind racing ahead. If there's a certain word that trips him up, he'll think of a different way to say it while still conveying the context he intended.
"I learned to pause," Springer said. "It might not even be noticeable to the person I'm talking to, but to me it seems like an eternity. If I'm feeling I'm going to stutter over a word, [I pause]. It helped me say what I wanted to say, but in a totally different way. When there are times I feel like I'm going to do it, instead of saying it, I'll switch the word in my own head. Then it will come out fine."
Advice for others
Given that Springer has always held a positive view about his situation, it isn't surprising to hear that his advice for those dealing with a stutter or something similar is fairly straightforward: Attack it head-on.
Viewing it simply as a trait, rather than an impediment, might help someone feel like it can be dealt with. The worst thing, Springer said, is to be isolated out of fear of being different or fear of what people will say or do.
"I've come across a lot of people who stutter or have some sort of speech issue," Springer said. "The best thing I can say is embrace it. You are who you are. It makes you unique. Don't let anybody or anything get in the way of who you are and who you want to be.
"There are nice people in this world. If you stutter, they'll hang in there. I've been fortunate to be around a lot of people who understand that. My best advice is to embrace it, don't try to hide it or be somebody you're not. You need to go out and enjoy your life. You can't be concerned with the things you can't control."
Lessons from life translate to the field
Control what you can control. It's an axiom often said in the baseball world. Springer uses it to help him -- and he hopes others -- to live with stuttering. It easily carries over to baseball, in which trying to manage everything on the field can be a player's undoing, regardless of age. As a young player just getting his big league career started, trying to do too much would be a huge pitfall.
So is trying to do too much all at once. The lessons that Springer -- already a high-energy person and player -- has learned about slowing himself down so he can be understood work very well for him in the outfield and the batter's box, too. Yes, he's going to swing and miss some -- that's likely to always be a part of his game -- but his power-and-speed combination is exciting to watch.
His ability to slow things down has allowed him to make more adjustments than many thought he'd be able to when he came out of the University of Connecticut in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Springer has the chance to be a better all-around hitter than some anticipated. There's no question that what he's been able to accomplish with his speech has translated to a deeper understanding of how the game works.
"This game is structured around you failing seven times out of 10," Springer said. "I understand that when it comes to baseball, you're going to fail. When it comes to life, you're going to fail. The key is you have to get back up and keep going. The more you can get back up and keep climbing that mountain, the better off you are in life, in sports, whatever profession you're going to be in. I think I didn't have a firm grasp on that until I got to college. You have to do it over and over and over again."