When Houston Astros then-rookie George Springer appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2014, his team was firmly entrenched in the basement, losing 100 games or more a season for the previous three years. So it seemed laughable at that time when writer Ben Reiter predicted the lowly Astros would win the World Series in 2017.
Fast forward to last fall when Springer appeared on SI’s cover once again, this time flanked by his spark-plug teammate José Altuve proudly holding the World Series trophy while a grinning Springer points to the 2014 magazine cover he holds in his right hand.
“It would have been believable if he’d said 2019 or 2020,” Springer says. “Everybody wouldn’t have been like, ‘2017? Three years? No way.’ But here you go, 112 wins later, we’re World Series champions.”
Not only did the Astros take home all the bacon, but Springer was the catalyst for the win, snagging the Most Valuable Player trophy in the process for his performance. He chalked up eight extra base hits, a World Series record; accumulated 29 total bases, another record, and hit five home runs, which tied him with Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley for the most ever in a World Series. But he was the only player to homer in four straight games of a Series — the last four, including Game 7, where the Astros beat the Dodgers 5 to 1 to clinch the title.
Springer still has a few copies of the 2014 issue, thanks in large part to his father. “My dad’s a big hoarder. He had a friend over at Sports Illustrated and the guy sent him a big box full,” he says. “He probably has 100 of them. He hands them out to people and I’m like: ‘Dad, nobody cares. Stop handing these out.’ But now really, stop handing them out,” he says with a laugh, since the issue is now selling for $300 or more on auction sites.
But while his face may be in high demand, the cover boy is still as humble and approachable as ever. In fact, his boyish enthusiasm, ready smile and infectious love of the game was a hallmark of the most recent Series.
“This game has provided me with every opportunity I’ve ever had in my life,” Singer says. “Material stuff, a chance to meet people, travel the world. But I just really love playing the game. It’s the only place in my entire life that allowed me to be myself and not think twice about it. It’s a game where you don’t get judged on your personality or your characteristic traits — you’re just a normal dude playing against other people.”
These words provide a hint into what’s bubbling just below the surface.
Born 28 years ago in New Britain, Conn., Springer comes from an athletic family: his grandfather and father both played amateur baseball, his mother was a gymnast and both his sisters played college softball.
For much of his youth, Springer was small, standing only 5 feet 2 inches and weighing 100 pounds in high school. But he eventually grew to a strapping 6 feet 3 inches and 200 pounds and played baseball at the University of Connecticut, where he became the highest-drafted player in UConn history when the Astros selected him 11th in the first round of the 2011 draft.
But while height and athletic ability are no longer issues, there’s another residue from his childhood that still defines him: Springer stutters.
Although speech therapy has essentially eliminated the issue today, its presence is always there in the back of his mind.
“I call it a ‘thing’ — I don’t see it as a speech impediment or a disability,” he says. “It’s not like I was born and something bad happened and all of a sudden I can’t use my right arm. I didn’t understand what was happening, I just talked and then I figured out that most people didn’t do what I was doing. I can’t control it. I don’t want to do it, but I do do it, so I just call it a ‘thing.’ I used to call it the funny disease when I was a kid because when you do it, your first reaction is to laugh.”
Eventually, that laughter led to silence.
“As a kid, it’s the end of the world. I used to go days and not say a word to anybody just because I didn’t want to. Now if you got to know me, you’d tell me to stop talking. But I still see myself as that kid who couldn’t say the word ‘the.’”
To help other kids facing the same issue, Springer has become very active in the The Stuttering Association for the Young, a nonprofit that works to prevent and improve treatment for stutterers.
Doing interviews and even agreeing to wear a microphone on field during the 2017 All-Star Game have helped Springer give hope to others battling the same issue.
“The older you get, the more self-conscious you become,” he says. “But if you see me on ESPN or in post-game interviews, it gives you a little bit of insight into what you can do. I want to be able to help as much as I can and if I can use my platform to do it, why not.”
Although he has overcome his stutter, he still thinks he stumbles over every word. “For the individual who does it, that person is more aware of it than the person you’re talking to,” he says. “So I might not actually do it at all, but in my head, I do. When I first met my fiancée, she didn’t hear it at all and I thought I fumbled every word.”
Instead of focusing on his speech, Springer is focusing on something else during the off-season: his upcoming wedding. His fiancée is Charlise Castro, a star softball player in college who was introduced to the slugger by his sister. Although Castro is from Kingston, N.Y., they’re due to be married on Jan. 20 in Newport Beach, Calif.
“We’re completely throwing a wrench into everybody’s off-season and going all the way out there,” he says. “She is awesome, she means the world to me. I joke with her all the time that our honeymoon is going to be spring training because it’s so close from when we’re getting married to the start of the year. I think next off-season we’re going to travel the world and kind of enjoy it. She deserves it, I deserve it.”
In fact, Springer says before they agreed to tie the knot, they had a real heart-to-heart talk about what it would mean to be married to a professional baseball player.
“My life basically owns her life,” he says. “I feel really bad for her because the normal things like a spontaneous trip, going out to eat whenever she wants — she doesn’t get a chance to do that. It definitely takes a special kind of girl to be able to put her own ambitions aside and kind of take the back seat. I remember back in 2014, we had a talk and I told her that, ‘if you and I are going to continue this, you’re the one who’s going to have to [sacrifice], because I’m owned.’ She had actually said no at first, but I convinced her to stay around and now she’s stuck with me.”
One thing Castro has helped do is to elevate Springer’s style.
“I like to look good and feel good, I don’t care what brand it is, expensive, not expensive. My fiancée basically outfits me. If she says I’d look good in that, I’ll wear it. I trust her; I don’t feel like she’d put me in anything I’d look like a clown in.”
Among his favorites are Seven For All Mankind, Paige or Hudson jeans and American Rag. He’s also partial to Louis Vuitton or Gucci shoes, belts and backpacks. “If I could wear my Nike sweatshirt and sweatpants all day, everyday, I would. I like clothing that is simple and normal, like hoodies or a flannel shirt. Our team policy on the road is you have to wear a button-up shirt or a collared shirt with some nice shoes — you have to look presentable. I have a lot of State and Liberty dress shirts made for athletes and they’re awesome, I wear them all the time. I wore these Louis Vuitton shoes the entire year because I was superstitious so I didn’t switch my shoes until the playoffs when I wore these Balenciaga ones my fiancée got me. I wore them every day and they had a World Series in them and I’m going to continue to wear them.”
When Springer shows up in Florida in February in those Balenciaga shoes, he knows he’s going to have to work hard with his teammates to pull off a repeat in 2018.
“Well, 2017 will end on Dec. 31 and you have to start all over again in 2018,” he says. “The second you’re satisfied and think you’ve accomplished everything, you’re going to put yourself in a very complacent state and that’s not where I want to be. There’s a lot more to be done. I think we have the team to repeat, but a lot has to go right over a 10-month schedule.”