George Springer visited his alma mater, UConn, last week and was soon wowing members of the baseball team on Zoom with his mastery of the head coach’s base-running quiz.
With his six months’ pregnant wife, Charlise, in tow, the free-agent outfielder needed prodding to leave.
“He could have sat there for hours,” UConn coach Jim Penders said Tuesday. “He was answering our questions on the quiz and he’s never studied before. He says, ‘Coach, I never knew all that stuff, but I just do it.’ He’s the 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent in the world who could just do those things.”
Springer, 31, is the highest-rated outfielder on the free-agent board, as the Mets look for a dynamic right-handed bat and center fielder who can improve the lineup. Springer meets the criteria, but also as somebody with the attributes to handle the fishbowl of New York City and become a respected presence within the team.
The 11th-overall selection by the Astros in the 2011 draft, Springer’s résumé includes three All-Star selections and a World Series title, albeit one that can be disputed following the uncovering of Houston’s illegal sign-stealing scheme in 2017.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he slashed .265/.359/.540 with 14 homers and 32 RBIs in 51 games.
Springer’s teammates at UConn included L.J. Mazzilli, who played in the Mets’ minor league system for five seasons. Mazzilli’s father, Lee, was a popular player for the Mets in the 1970s and ’80s and holds memories of Springer leading the Huskies to an NCAA Super Regional in 2011.
“I think [Springer] has the makeup for New York,” Lee Mazzilli said. “I think he would shine and other players would gravitate toward him and I think his personality would rub off and other players would see that type of personality he has, which would be a good thing.
“The only thing you need to know, and the most important trait in any human being is that he’s got a good family. He’s close to his family, so that is what you need to know.”
Springer grew up in New Britain, Conn., surrounded by sports. His mother, Laura, a native of Puerto Rico, was a gymnast at UConn, and his father, George, whose lineage is Panamanian, participated in the 1976 Little League World Series before playing football for the Huskies. Springer also has two younger sisters who played college softball.
Reared near the territorial dividing line in New York/Boston fandom, Springer rooted for the Red Sox, whose Double-A affiliate played in New Britain. After the Red Sox departed, the Twins moved in and young Springer one day played catch with future major league star Torii Hunter, who became his favorite player.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a guy that is more meant to be doing what he is doing than George,” Penders said. “The guy was born to play baseball, he was born to love the game and the people that play it and coach it and cover it and everything that goes along with the game.
“He is just an absolute joy to be around, he would be successful in just about any kind of people business, but he is made to play baseball.”
Penders described Springer as the player every batboy considered a friend, as somebody more comfortable around children than adults.
“He is like Peter Pan,” Penders said.
Springer developed a stutter in his youth, but has overcome it to the point he agreed to wear a microphone for Fox during the All-Star game in 2017. Penders said he never heard Springer stutter in the dugout during a game or on the field.
“I would hear it when I was talking about his grades in my office his freshman year,” Penders said. “Never with regard to baseball. He owns it and we’re so proud of how he’s handled that and the attention that came with it.”
And New York, Penders suspects, would work just fine for Springer.
“We were just talking about this the other day: ‘Your greatest skill is that people are drawn to you and you are drawn to people,’ ” Penders said. “You can wind up in 30 places, as long as there are other people there you are going to be successful.’ He’s got a great outlook about the whole thing, but I think he would embrace any organization that embraces him and any fan base that embraces him.”