Astros outfielder a tremendous talent and teammate
By Richard Justice
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- He makes plays that have the power to take your breath away, and sometimes they do. Only Astros outfielder George Springer makes them almost routinely. In that way, he impacts way more than games.
Teammates, fans and an entire franchise feed off them. These are moments that inspire and energize, that come to define a special season.
"He's our spark plug," said pitcher Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner. "He comes to the park every day with a smile on his face."
Maybe that's why when the Astros discuss Springer, just 26 years old with only 180 big league games under his belt, they do not begin in the obvious places: talent, speed, defense that's off-the-charts good.
Nor do they begin with his poise or how comfortable Springer is when the lights are bright and the stakes high. Oh, they might mention that he carried Houston in those final few days of 2015 when the club was fighting and clawing to hang on to a postseason berth.
Springer batted .389 as the Astros won six of their last eight to clinch their first postseason berth in 10 years on the final day of the regular season.
They might also mention that Springer made perhaps the single greatest defensive play in a season filled with amazing grabs. That happened way back in the sixth game of the year, long before anyone believed the 2015 season would be anything special for Houston.
In the bottom of the 10th inning with the game tied at 4 on April 12, the Rangers had the bases loaded and two outs when Leonys Martin hit a searing liner toward the right-field seats.
You can watch the replay a dozen times and not understand how Springer did what he did, how he was playing shallow and still sprinted back, back, back and somehow leaped over the wall to pull a walk-off grand slam back into the park. The Astros would win the game, 6-4, in 14 innings.
"I get goosebumps just thinking about it," Houston designated hitter Evan Gattis said.
Gattis smiles at the thought.
"Go watch the reaction of the pitcher," Gattis said. "That might be the best part."
Reliever Tony Sipp turned and pumped a fist in the air, screaming joyously as Springer sprinted back toward the dugout.
But when the Astros talk about Springer, they do not begin with the things that can be weighed, measured and touched. Instead, they talk about things only they can know.
For instance, when Springer spent two months on the disabled list with a broken wrist last season, Astros manager A.J. Hinch asked him to remain in uniform in the dugout.
"I wanted his voice and his energy," Hinch said. "Those are important things to us. To see him in there getting on guys, getting on me, that's part of who we are as a team."
Springer smiles when he hears this sort of thing.
"I understand that not everybody every day is going to be 100 percent -- and I'm not either," he said. "If I can do anything to get somebody into the game emotionally, get 'em fired up, be positive, I'll do anything to help somebody's mood to affect how they play. If you're in a good mood, you'll probably have a higher chance to play better."
Having watched Springer at his best in 2015 -- 19 doubles, 16 home runs, 16 stolen bases and an .826 OPS in 102 games -- Hinch has come to appreciate a guy who shows up every day with a smile, a guy who seemingly never has a bad day.
"He brings it every day," Hinch said. "He brings everything he has to the ballpark every day. He goes as hard and as strong as anybody on our team. That's not hard to do for a week at a time or even a month at a time. But to do it every single time he goes out on the field is pretty impressive. With the grind we go through, he never fails to have energy or passion."
In the clubhouse, they say similar things.
"I try to copy the way he plays," second baseman Jose Altuve said. "He has one speed -- 100 mph."
If the Astros have a concern, it's that playing 100 mph sometimes comes with a price. Springer paid it in May last season when he ran head-first into the right-field wall while robbing Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre of a hit.
Springer missed six games after being diagnosed with a concussion, and when he returned, he found a Houston Texans helmet in his locker. He makes no apologies for how he plays.
"If I don't give 100 percent for the team, I'm not myself," he said. "Obviously, I don't want to hit a wall with my head. I have to be smart about it. But I'm not afraid of the wall. I'm going to go out and play, and whatever happens, happens. We know who we are. We know our style."
Every once in a while, a franchise gets really lucky to find a player who checks off every box. He's not only supremely talented, but he has a relentless drive and work ethic to be great.
That's George Springer.
"I just believe this is truly a game, and you have to enjoy every second of it," he said. "There's a lot of things that happen in life you can't control. But I can control how I play and my attitude. I embrace it."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.