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Springer tries to stay calm amid lofty expectations

Prospect's arrival leaves him in shock, excites Houston's hungry fans

HOUSTON -- The message George Springer received from both general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Bo Porter upon his long-awaited arrival at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday afternoon was to simply relax and not try to do too much.

That's easier said than done when an entire Astros fan base has been clamoring for you for more than a year and you have been tabbed as the player who's going to inject some life into an offense that's been stagnant since the start of season. But there's no one who believes Springer can't handle the expectations and pressures that come being a top prospect making a Major League debut.

Springer, wearing No. 4, was in the Astros lineup for the first time Wednesday night against the Royals, batting second and playing right field. He received a nice ovation from the crowd before grounding out sharply in his first at-bat, getting robbed of a hit by diving Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar. In his second at-bat he legged out an infield single for his first Major League hit, then scored on a Jason Castro home run.

Welcome to the big leagues.

Earlier in the day, Springer flew to Houston from Colorado Springs, Colo., where he had belted a grand slam for Triple-A Oklahoma City only hours earlier. His arrival excited Astros fans on the Internet and created a buzz at the ballpark.

"This is great," Springer said. "This is obviously a thing as a player and as a kid, you dream of your whole life. To get the opportunity is something special."

Astros outfielder L.J. Hoes, who has a locker next to Springer, said he hopes the presence of Springer in the lineup will take some pressure of mainstays Jose Altuve, Dexter Fowler and Jason Castro. Fowler and Castro have struggled offensively this year. They're not alone, but they're expected to be two of the leaders with the bats.

"Hopefully he'll take some of the pressure off of them feeling they have to carry this team," he said. "Adding him to the lineup and getting him out there every day, it's going to add another threat to our lineup.

Springer, the Astros' first-round pick (No. 11) in 2011, was hitting .353 with three homers and nine RBIs at Oklahoma City. He was told by interim RedHawks manager Tom Lawless on Tuesday night he was finally getting the call to the big leagues.

"I think I stared at him blankly and was like, 'What?'" Springer said. "Once it kind of set it, I put my head in my hands and was in shock. I was in awe. I was able to go call my mom and dad. I wasn't able to stay calm. It was an extremely emotional phone call for me."

As it was for his parents, George Springer Jr. and Marie Springer. His father is a lawyer in Hartford, Conn., who played football at the University of Connecticut. His mother was a gymnast at Connecticut, so sports run deep in the family.

"We often talk to him after a game, so when he called it was 'Georgie's on the phone,'" Marie Springer said.

But this wasn't a typical phone call.

"When he told me he was coming here, my tears were immediate and sustained for a period of time," his father said. "In fact, he had to call me back because it took me a little while to get my composure. I'm overjoyed he has this opportunity."

Astros manager Bo Porter talked to Springer on Wednesday and told him not to change a thing. Springer remembers some advice he received earlier in his life, about how to handle expectations.

"The only way I can explain is my coach in school would always say, you want to be like a duck," he said. "You want to be calm above the water but underneath the feet are just kicking and going and going and going. That's my plan, to be calm but just play."

Porter doesn't expect Springer to change the team immediately, but he knows he can have an impact.

"George Springer has been a very good baseball player for a long time," he said. "I told him to just continue to out there and play the game the way you've played and let your ability speak for itself."

And Springer's ability is boundless. He has a true five-tool potential with the ability to hit for average, hit for power, run, throw and field his position.

"He's not going to carry the team right out of the gate," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "But he's the type of player that's exciting and he can win a couple of ballgames with his feet and his glove. If he gets off to a great start, that will be great. We have to temper our expectations because he's never played at this level. This is hard as it gets. I'm sure he'll have some bumps in the road, but he'll get tested."

The only thing missing Wednesday for George Springer III was his late grandfather, who taught his son to love the game. His grandfather died in 2006. When George Springer Jr. took his son to a baseball game at Fenway Park when the boy was 4 years old, the dreams of playing professional baseball began. Those dreams came true on Wednesday night.

"He has a passion for life, he has a passion for the game," Springer's dad said of his son. "He has a tremendous work ethic. He puts everything he has into it, but at the same time he enjoys it immensely. He has a smile on his face all the time.

"Knowing how difficult the game is, there are days there are going to be strikeouts and popups and groundouts and there's going to be errant fly balls, but you're also going to see some pretty special things out on the field with the way he runs, the way he throws and the way he hits, the way he carries himself -- his whole approach for the game. He has a smile on his face that's infectious as well as contagious. I'm looking forward to seeing it myself because I'm a baseball fan.'"

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.
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