MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Springer masters baseball, speech disorder

Astros star outfielder hopes to help others dealing with similar issues

Springer masters baseball, speech disorder

MIAMI -- There might have been a time when Astros outfielder George Springer could not have imagined doing what he did Tuesday night. Starting in his first All-Star Game was also a pretty cool thing.

In terms of challenges, Springer has had bigger.

"He's conquered a lot," teammate Dallas Keuchel, a fellow All-Star, said.

"Lots of respect for that guy," Astros All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa said.

Here's the thing that made the 88th MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard -- which the American League won 2-1 in 10 innings -- so remarkable for Springer.

FOX asked Springer to wear a microphone and do an in-game interview in the bottom of the third inning while playing left field at Marlins Park. (Bryce Harper did the same later in the game while playing right field for the National League.)

Springer said, "Yes," immediately.

"It's fun," said the 27-year-old, who was hitless in three at-bats Tuesday night. "It's a little bit of an insight into how the game is being played and what the players have to do. It's not quite the whole thing, but you get the perspective of a player."

To most athletes, this would be no big deal. To Springer, it symbolized one of the great challenges of his life. He grew up with a fairly severe stutter, the kind that can strip a kid of his self-esteem and lots more.

Springer overcame that stutter -- or at least learned to manage it -- through therapy, concentration and two incredibly supportive and nurturing parents.

What the Astros love so much about Springer now is part of what helped him overcome his stutter. He's one of those relentlessly positive, outgoing people, someone who makes everyone feel good to be around.

Yes, Springer is a great player. Those things can be measured. He entered the All-Star break with 27 home runs, second in the Majors only to Aaron Judge's 30, and a huge reason Houston is 60-29 and leading the AL West by 16 1/2 games.

Correa, Springer on ASG

"He's probably the best teammate I've ever had," said Phillies reliever Pat Neshek, who spent the 2015 and '16 seasons with the Astros. "He's the guy that runs that team. It's the energy. He's just so positive in the clubhouse with other guys.

"He gets the clubhouse going. He does the music. It's awesome to see him get the respect he deserves. He's got [Carlos] Correa and [Jose] Altuve there, and sometimes I don't think enough people talk about him. You'd take him on almost any other team, and he'd be the guy you build around."

And like others who know Springer well, respect extends far behind home runs and positive energy.

"One of the main things about him is his character," Keuchel said. "He has had to overcome this. This is what he had to do. We all admire that. That's the sign of a real man."

Springer's two-homer game

Springer accepted at an early age that he might stutter at times, and he also accepted that kids might make fun of him at times. When they did, he laughed at himself as well. As he said two years ago: "I understand it's part of what makes me who I am."

These days, Springer devotes time and energy to encouraging adults and children alike who struggle with stuttering. He hosts an annual charity event in Houston to raise money and awareness, and in 2014, he was named spokesperson for the nonprofit Stuttering Association for the Young (SAY).

Wearing that microphone and offering commentary symbolized more than just a unique view of baseball's Midsummer Classic.

"I hope so," Springer said. "I can't spread a message to kids and adults if I'm not willing to put myself out there. I understand I'm going to stutter. I don't care. It is what it is. It's not going to stop me from talking and having fun."

The thing that allowed Springer to deal with -- and ultimately overcome -- stuttering is part of what has made him so important to the first-place Astros.

Springer's presence -- his personality, his laughter, his cutting sense of humor -- is so important that Astros manager A.J. Hinch asked him to remain in the dugout when he was on the disabled list two summers ago.

"He's a guy you want around," Hinch said. "He gets on everybody, including me. He just does not have a bad day."

That positivity was evident as Springer spoke to announcers Joe Buck and John Smoltz during the on-field interview.

"This is an experience of a lifetime," Springer said. "I'm extremely happy to be here. To be here with all these guys, especially all my teammates, it's been a lot of fun."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.