Blue Jays center fielder George Springer became a father for the first time last year when his wife, Charlise, gave birth to their son.
They named him George.
As in, George Chelston Springer IV.
“I was going back and forth…and then something felt right about it,” Springer said in a conversation earlier this season. “I told my dad, and my dad was extremely happy. It means a lot to my family and obviously means a lot to me.”
In time, young George will know the history of his name.
He will learn that his father, George III, is a four-time All-Star, 2017 World Series MVP, and past nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award because of his extensive community involvement.
He will learn that his grandfather, George Jr., is an esteemed attorney who has argued cases before the United States Court of Appeals and Connecticut Supreme Court. George Jr. is a former president of the New Britain (Conn.) Walicki Little League and current chairman of the Hartford HealthCare Central Region Board of Directors.
And he will learn that his great-grandfather, George Sr., was born and raised in Panama and immigrated to the United States at age 17. George Sr. earned his teaching degree at Central Connecticut State, enlisted in the U.S. Army, and returned to Connecticut to embark on his career as a schoolteacher and coach. In time, he entered union leadership and became national vice president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Over his seven seasons in Houston, George III worked with the Astros Community Leaders program and Urban Youth Academy. He also has utilized his platform in baseball to become a national spokesperson for SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young. With support from the Jays Care Foundation, Springer is working to expand SAY’s offerings in Canada.
George III has spoken with children at Camp SAY about how he’s worked to overcome his stutter, including the powerful symbolism behind his decision to wear a live microphone during the 2017 MLB All-Star Game broadcast on FOX. George Sr. said he received “countless” emails from parents after that game about how the interview impacted their children.
“George’s message to everyone is that you have value, and you have a voice, even if it might take you longer to say it,” George Jr. said.
George III is showing the same commitment to service and community engagement that led both George Sr. and George Jr. to serve as president of the NAACP branch in New Britain, Conn.
So when George Jr. learned he would be the grandfather to George IV, you can imagine his reaction.
“I was absolutely delighted,” George Jr. said during a recent telephone interview. “Not so much because it’s my name, but because it’s my dad’s name, too. That probably meant more to me than anything.
“I can’t think about a person who has had a greater involvement in my life. He passed away in 2006, much too young. You wouldn’t find anyone with a greater intellect and greater empathy and compassion for others than my dad.”
Thus, George IV carries a name associated with decades of deep, meaningful community impact. He’s also familiar with the primary job description of any 1-year-old: source of joy and exhaustion for the grownups around him.
“Greatest thing on the planet,” George III replied, when asked about his experiences as a father. “It’s tiring, but I have a much different perspective on life. I’ve got to be Dad. I get to watch my kid play in the grass, have fun, and just be himself.
“For me, it really changes things. He doesn’t care if I go 4-for-4 or 0-for-4. He just wants to play. It helps me kind of let things go a little bit…Yeah, this is my job, but there’s so much more to life. I don’t want that to sound like I don’t take this seriously, because I do, but it really is just a game. He’s taught me to enjoy the moment and enjoy life a lot more.”
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George III said one of the best parts about being a dad is watching his own parents relish their role as grandparents.
“I ask my dad all sorts of stuff,” George said. “It’s fun to watch them interact — to watch him see how happy I am. Then it’s kind of the reverse effect: I get to watch him and my mom play with my son and do things that only a grandparent can do. It’s pretty special for me, to see them happy.”
George III always had a close relationship with his grandfather, and so he reflects often on his namesake during quiet family moments.
“Not a lot of people know who he is, and that’s cool, but the ones that do, know what he did as a person — his efforts in the community, his efforts with us,” George said. “He was a great overall man. I wish he was still around to meet my son, but it’s definitely cool to know that I have his name, and my son does, as well.”
George Jr. marvels at the arc of his father’s life, which reads like a vivid textbook of 20th century history. He traveled throughout the country and world, motivated to engage with causes ranging from civil rights and voting rights, to environmental protection and help for working families.
George Sr. attended the March on Washington in 1963. He was an election monitor in South Africa during the historic 1994 vote that led to Nelson Mandela becoming president. When Nigeria resumed democratic elections in 1999, George Sr. traveled there in a delegation led by former President Jimmy Carter to observe the peaceful transfer of power.
Closer to home, the eldest Springer brought George Jr. with him whenever he could. George Sr. worked on the 1970 U.S. Senate campaign of Joe Duffey, which meant George Jr. was assigned to one of the most vital roles: helping to prepare the campaign mailers. The younger Springer was immersed in his duties one day in Forestville, Conn., when he recognized the man working beside him: Paul Newman, the Academy Award-winning actor and co-chairman of Duffy’s campaign.
When New Britain High School needed a soccer program, George Sr. started one. When at-risk teens needed a place to go after school, he ran a center for them. When he saw kids were arriving to school hungry, he worked to influence policy decisions at the state level.
The work brought intense demands on his time, but George Jr. and his two sisters grew to understand why.
“You want to make your kids the priority, but you also think of people who make decisions that cause them to be away from home, in order to improve the conditions of the world,” George Jr. said.
“To me, those choices are not inconsistent. They’re part of the same continuum. That’s something I’ve thought about a lot and always talked with my dad about. There’s always going to be tension in the decisions that take you away from home, but that’s why it’s important that you balance everything. If you put your kids first, you’re never going to make a wrong decision.”
George Sr. had once aspired to a career as a professional baseball player, and he passed on his love of the game to his children and grandchildren. George Jr. played in the 1976 Little League World Series and met his wife, Laura, while they were student-athletes at the University of Connecticut. George played football, and Laura was a gymnast.
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George Jr. coached in the Walicki Little League for 11 years, including George III’s district All-Star teams. Laura coached the couple’s daughters, Nicole and Lena, at the minor and major levels. Nicole went on to play softball at Central Connecticut State, Lena at Ohio State; both represented Laura’s native Puerto Rico at international tournaments.
George Jr. served on the Little League International Advisory Board, and he and Laura were named the 2016 George and Barbara Bush Little League Parents of the Year.
George Jr. can point to any number of proud family moments at baseball and softball fields, but the emotions hit differently when his children mention something that they learned from their grandfather. And that happens quite often.
Nicole, a Type 1 diabetic, left her job at a bank this year to begin her new career as a nurse in the endocrinology department of a hospital in Farmington, Conn. Lena made plans to attend law school and was on the verge of enrolling when she decided her true passion was in helping student-athletes reach their full potential; she’s now the pitching coach for the softball program at Texas-El Paso.
In Houston, George became the first major league player to donate to COVID-19-related ballpark employee income support. Last summer, George donated $75,000 to Perfect Game to help children of color gain more opportunities to play baseball.
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“He’s one of the most decent, caring individuals that I’ve known — it just happens that he’s my kid,” George Jr. said. “He’s always wanted to be the best that he can be, but it’s with a purpose in mind. There’s always a greater goal. In baseball, his focus is less on what he’s doing statistically than if the team is doing well. He’s always been that kind of person. He’s worried about everyone around him, professionally and personally. And I’ve seen that with him from the time he was seven or eight years old. If there’s a person struggling, he’s going right to that person.
“He’s always had this sense that it’s really important to be concerned and take care of people around you. Now all of that is transferring to his son and other kids he might have in the future. To have another person in the world who shares those values, we all benefit from that.”
In considering his father’s legacy, and watching his son today, George Jr. thinks about something he once heard from a minister: You don’t need a Ph.D. to be great. You need the capacity to serve others.
“That is the essence of my dad’s life, and it also describes the person my son has become,” George said. “It has been a blessing for me to see that relationship between the two of them grow over time.”
George IV will learn that story one day.
And then he’ll write his own.