BOSTON -- Everything was in place. Astros outfielder George Springer was set to make his Fenway Park debut last year, fulfilling a dream of playing in the ballpark he so often visited as a kid to watch his beloved Red Sox.
On July 1, the day before the Astros were scheduled to depart for Boston for a series against the Red Sox, Springer broke his right wrist when he was struck by a pitch thrown by Kansas City's Edinson Volquez. He missed two months as a result and was forced to skip a series at Fenway because of an injury for the second time in two years; Springer strained his left quad in 2014.
"It was all in place, and then I got hurt and everybody flaked on me," Springer joked. "It was all set up. My friends still came. That was tough, because I had just gotten hurt, like, five hours before the flight. It was tough, but I was able to get through it and come back in September."
Springer, who grew up just over 100 miles from Fenway Park in New Britain, Conn., started in right field for the Astros on Thursday night. His parents, George and Laura, made the drive to Boston. Springer expected countless friends and family members to show up throughout the four-game series. On Thursday, Springer's dad had to choose between watching his daughter pitch for Ohio State in the Big Ten softball championship game at Penn State or see his son fulfill a dream.
"We're just glad to be here," said George Springer Jr., the outfielder's father. "I'm glad he's healthy, and I'm glad he's going to play today. I'm very excited."
George Jr. took his son to his first Red Sox game when the future big leaguer was 3 1/2 years old, sitting in seats behind home plate but toward the back. George Jr. said his son watched the game intently while gripping a small wooden bat, then went home and took some swings at ping pong balls in the backyard. A star was born.
The first memory of Fenway from Springer the player was the Red Sox's home opener in 1998, when Mo Vaughn hit a walk-off grand slam to cap a seven-run ninth inning. Springer had posters of Ken Griffey Jr. on his wall and idolized Torii Hunter, but Vaughn was his favorite Red Sox player.
"Because he was big and he could hit homers," Springer joked.
Springer's dad said it wasn't uncommon for the whole family to pile into the car on weekends and head to Fenway.
"Back then, the bleacher seats were 10 bucks," Springer said. "You could always get tickets. We could come up here an awful lot, and we would spend a lot of time here. This is a real thrill."
Springer said he planned to take a moment to look around and soak it in when taking the field in the first inning on Thursday.
"I do that pretty much every place that we go to every day, because it's such a blessing to have this as my job," Springer said. "To go out and play a game is something special. I always kind of take it in and then go have some fun."