On my trip to Lancaster last weekend, I had the opportunity to watch 2011 first round draft pick George Springer play in three games. He didn't have the best series, but you could still see that he is a special player. His outfield play was literally gasp-inducing. When I talked to Manager Rodney Linares, he spoke of Springer and a few other players as "the future of the franchise." It was easy to see why.
What I didn't know about Springer was much of anything about him personally. Twitter has spoiled me because it's helped me get to "know" several players before we actually met. George isn't on twitter. So I had to get to know him the old fashioned way. The picture that emerged was a dual one - a gregarious, fun-loving teammate on the field and a quiet, thoughtful and private individual off the field. I liked both of them.
With the news today that George has been promoted to Corpus Christi, I would like to add a word of caution to overly exuberant Astros fans. He will struggle at AA. He will master the level, but he will struggle. He may be nicknamed Superman, but he isn't going to single-handedly save the franchise overnight. He will very likely be a star, but not quite yet. Please be realistic in your expectations. He deserves that much.
On to the interview [edited for brevity and clarity] ~
On the whirlwind of the past year: "It's been fun. I can't complain. We've got a great group of guys and a great staff and it's just fun. You go out everyday and you have fun and you play hard and ultimately at the end of the day, you're playing a great game as a job. It's awesome. I love it."
On what he's accomplished and what he still needs to do: "I don't know necessarily what I would say I've accomplished. I've been able to do some stuff and learn a bunch of stuff but obviously [there's] some stuff I have to improve on but that's the game and that's how it goes. It's a long year and you learn and whatever happens happens."
On learning patience at the plate: "You learn the strike zone more. You learn how the umpires work. You play teams 4, 5, 6, 7 times in a row. You learn their starters. You learn their relievers, learn how the guys call games and you learn yourself and I think that's been a big thing for me this year. I've learned myself more and I've figured out my style of hitting."
Anyone on the team that's been a particular influence?: "There's guys who have obviously been here before and have been in all stages of the game so you look up to them, just to see how they get through it and their routines, but at the same time I'm my own player and I need to go about stuff the way I would do it."
On a potential promotion to Corpus: "That's not something I'm too concerned about. That's ultimately something that I don't have any control over. I'm going to go out and I'm going to play and I'm going to try to perform and do the best I can and if I'm fortunate enough to get that call ... But as of now it's not something that I worry about."
Who on the team makes him laugh?: "Kike Hernandez. He keeps everyone loose and relaxed. Me and him are both very similar in our personalities so it's been fun with him. He comes to the park everyday to work and play, but he has a lot of fun."
Which Astros pitcher would he least like to face?: I've only faced a few guys, mainly some guys in Spring Training. In terms of guys on this team I wouldn't want to face, it would probably be R.J. Alaniz or [Nick] Tropeano just because the ball moves so much and they can control it extremely well.
Any players on the team he likes to sit back and watch?: "There was a guy here ... Ben Orloff. He's not here any more. He was extremely fun to watch. Just how he played the game, [how he'd] go about certain at-bats in situations. He was a fun person to watch play. [Grant] Hogue is extremely athletic, extremely fast. [When] he gets on base, he just creates havoc. In the outfield, he gets at everything."
Who nicknamed him Superman?: "That would be Ben Orloff that started it and it just took off from there. I'm pretty sure he's the creator of it. I like it. It's fun."
What would he do if he couldn't play baseball?: "I would try to coach, stay in the game. I love this game. I'd try to be a collegiate coach somewhere. I just think that the experience that I had at school, there's nothing that I've seen so far that compares to that collegiate rivalry with teams, the bond of the team and stuff like that. And obviously it's a bit different in pro ball, there's team chemistry, but just the experience and the connection ... at school is something that you don't see a lot just because you're with each other all the time. You're in classes together. You're at practice. You lift. You do all that. I want to be a coach and be part of that."
On something most people don't know about him: "I'm actually a pretty shy person. Out on the field I like to have fun. You always see me joking around and having fun with everybody but I'm pretty shy. I'm pretty laid back ... off the field I kind of hang out, stay to myself. Everybody always says that I'm outgoing, but that's only on the field which is OK."
On the future of the club and the current Astros team: "I'm extremely excited about it. There's a great group of guys here. There's a great group of guys down below and up above. The Astros have a lot to look forward to the next few years. I think it's going to be something special to watch ... homegrown guys come straight up from the minor leagues and hopefully have an effect up there some day.
"The big league guys are young. They're extremely talented. Being in the big leagues is tough. For teams like the Astros to go out and compete every day and play hard ... if you win, you win. But I think ultimately in the end you've got to be able to fail first in order to succeed. And I think now those guys do a great job of playing hard. They play to win every night. That was the thing that I saw in Spring Training was those guys will play hard. They do not quit and I think that's a great mentality to learn. [If] you win, you win. It's ultimately a game. But those guys believe that they can win and they play to win. In my opinion, I'd much rather have guys like them, guys who really go out every day, conduct themselves like professionals and play hard. I look up to that. They're all extremely talented and they're good guys. They should be proud of what they're doing. It's not easy to play this game. This game's already hard enough as it is. They're setting the bar high for guys who aren't quite there yet."
I have a feeling that George will be setting a few bars of his own as he makes his way through the Astros system. The first person I thought about when word of the promotion came through was Rodney Linares. He told me, "I'm happiest the day they leave." And he meant that. They will be monitoring the Hooks game out in Lancaster tonight and pulling for George with everything they've got. So will I. And so should you.