HOUSTON -- The father of Astros outfielder George Springer grew up hearing firsthand accounts from his own dad about the impact of John Lewis in the civil rights movement, giving him a greater understanding of Lewis' legacy than many of his young peers.George Springer Sr., grandfather to the high-flying Astros
HOUSTON -- The father of Astros outfielder George Springer grew up hearing firsthand accounts from his own dad about the impact of John Lewis in the civil rights movement, giving him a greater understanding of Lewis' legacy than many of his young peers.
George Springer Sr., grandfather to the high-flying Astros outfielder, was a Panamanian immigrant who became a teacher of African-American history, head of the local American Federation of Teachers and a community activist. He was at the March on Washington in 1963, which Lewis helped organize, to hear Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and he later traveled with a delegation that included President Jimmy Carter to observe the election of Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa.
So when George Springer Jr. got the news that Houston mayor Sylvester Turner had invited Springer III -- his son, the Astros outfielder -- and Lewis to be the co-grand marshals of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade through the city's downtown today, he knew he had to be there -- for his son and his father.
"We were [in Houston] after the Christmas holiday and [Springer III] had mentioned that the mayor had reached out to him to be the grand marshal for the parade, and we felt that was obviously terrific," said Springer Jr., from his home in New Britain, Conn. "It wasn't until I got back after the New Year that I received an email that George was a grand marshal along with John Lewis, and I immediately send him a text on how incredible an opportunity this was to be with such a distinguished and honorable person."
Springer Jr. has never met Lewis, but he's certainly familiar with his legacy. Lewis, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1987, played many key roles in the civil rights movement, and he became known nationally when he marched alongside 600 others from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in '65 and suffered a fractured skull when protesters were ordered to disperse by Alabama state troopers.
"I knew John Lewis long before I came of age as a teenager, because my father told me who he was and the contributions he made," Springer Jr. said. "Everybody is familiar about John Lewis and Selma and the Edmund Pettis Bridge and how he nearly gave his life in service to the country. He's certainly somebody who's not only known as a civil rights activist, but somebody who's a general humanitarian. My community is better off, the state is better off, I think the country is better off and the world is better off because of John Lewis."
Springer III, the 2017 World Series Most Valuable Player Award winner and a two-time All-Star, said that while Lewis might not know who he is, he knows all about Lewis thanks to his father and grandfather.
"I think it's an honor to be there, and it's an honor to represent the city and represent the Astros," Springer III said. "To be alongside a humanitarian like that and a guy who has gone through the ups and downs and has seen stuff and been there is something special. I'm humbled to go, and I'm looking forward to it."
When asked what his father would think of his grandson riding in a parade with Lewis on MLK Day, Springer Jr. oozed family pride. Springer Sr. served as president of the NAACP New Britain branch for two terms in the 1980s and in '94 before Springer Jr. succeeded him in '97. Springer Sr. would give lectures at The King Center in Atlanta on MLK Day before he passed away in 2006 at age 74.
Springer Jr. said his dad would be smiling from ear to ear at the idea of his grandson riding alongside Lewis and honoring the weight of history.
"And maybe in some small sense, George [Springer III] is someone -- whether it's inside the game or outside the game -- who is always looking to make a contribution to the well-being of other people," Springer Jr. said. "It's fitting he be paired up with a giant when it comes to giving back as a humanitarian. It's really an ideal fit in my mind, and I'm glad he's going to have the opportunity to be able to do this with, really, an American Icon. I think it's an incredible opportunity, a very big honor for him."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.