Astros' Springer supporting camp for children who stutter

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Sunday, July 19, 2015
George Springer
Houston Astros' George Springer, right, wears a cast on his wrist as he signs autographs before a baseball game against the Texas Rangers Friday, July 17, 2015, in Houston
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

HOUSTON -- George Springer is as loquacious as he is outgoing, a 6-foot-3 bundle of chatter and charisma for the Houston Astros.

Currently on the disabled list with a broken right wrist, the outfielder and one of the faces of this up-and-coming team spends games flitting around the dugout making conversation with anyone who will listen, like a bee moving from flower to flower.

It's a stark contrast to a childhood spent with a stutter so severe that he rarely talked to those outside of his close circle of family and friends, days when he wouldn't have dared to chat with a stranger.

"It would be hard to believe for everybody in here, but I didn't like to talk a lot," he said. "I was always kind of quiet because I knew I would stutter. It was worse when I was a kid so I just stuck to myself."

Springer's stuttering has lessened as the years have passed, but he still deals with the issue and is now helping kids navigating the problem. He's become the spokesman for Camp SAY, presented by the Stuttering Association for the Young and tailored for those who stutter.

On Monday, the 25-year-old Springer is hosting a charity bowling event to raise money to send kids to the two-week camp in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

His involvement with the cause is personal, after experiencing firsthand how isolating and nerve-racking it can be to deal with stuttering.

"I know what it's like to be at school and to not want to talk, and if you do want to talk and then you start to stutter and then you get upset. It's just a snowball effect," he said. "I don't really think there's anybody better to understand what kids are going through just because I've been there before and I know what they're experiencing and what they probably will experience as they get older."

Manager A.J. Hinch shook his head when asked if he could picture Springer as the introverted child he described. Hinch sometimes jokes about not being able to get Springer to hush up and raves about how his sometimes over-the-top personality helps rev up the Astros.

"It is hard to believe the things that George has had to overcome (to) find himself in front of the cameras, in front of reporters, in front of kids, in front of his teammates," Hinch said. "It makes you proud of him to have overcome any issues that were presented to him early."

Springer underwent speech therapy as a child but says it didn't really help him. He credits his family for giving him the support he needed to not let it hold him back.

"I just kind of embraced it," he said. "I understand now that there really isn't anything I can do. It's pretty much out of my control ... it's like some people have blonde hair, some people don't. Some people stutter, some people don't. If you have it you really can't let that prohibit you or stop you from doing what you want to do and be who you are in life."

Springer starred at Connecticut before the Astros selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft. As he made his ascent through college and the minor leagues the need to speak publicly continued to grow. But instead of being daunted by the spotlight, he chose not to worry how people would respond to his stutter.

He's in his second year with the Astros after hitting 20 homers with 51 RBIs in 78 games as a rookie.

"I was always able to talk about stuff that I was comfortable talking about and I was able to slow myself down enough to not stutter," he said. "But I knew I would still do it at some point in time ... and just slowing myself down has actually helped me kind of adjust to having to talk in public."

He never shies away from an interview and is unfazed when he's engulfed by the bright lights of three or four television cameras and peppered with questions. Someone unfamiliar with his stutter might not realize he has it. His words are deliberate and flow from his mouth in a steady cadence, halted only occasionally by the stutter. But it's only for a split second and then he's right back on track.

"Obviously I'm still somewhat aware that it does happen, but it's not an issue," he said.

He hopes his story will resonate with children who stutter and illustrate to them that this speech problem doesn't have to limit them in any way.

"I think it's important for kids to see anybody not letting anything stop them from being who they want to be and being the person they want to be," Springer said. "I'm a big believer in living the life you want to live and go out and enjoy it because you only get one. So you can't let anything that you can't control stop you from doing the things that you want to do."