Reason to cheer for the Astros

This week, a world champion will be crowned in Major League Baseball, as the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers battle for MLB’s highest bragging rights.

Anyone who reads this column knows I am a Kansas City Royals fan, and, as such, I’ve had to select another team to cheer for this October. That team is the Houston Astros.

Why? Perhaps it’s an unlikely reason.

I’m cheering for the Astros because of a story that transcends baseball. It’s a story of courage and boldness, of perseverance in difficulty, of not letting anything hold you back.

The man behind that story is Astros outfielder George Springer.

Springer was selected by the Astros in the first-round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, 11th overall, out of the University of Connecticut. He made his major league debut in April 2014 and was selected as a 2017 All-Star.

Already in the 2017 World Series, Springer has hit three home runs through four games, including an 11th-inning two-run shot that lifted the Astros to a 7-6 win in Game 2.

Springer is a baseball player. He is also someone who stutters.

According to The Stuttering Foundation website, stuttering is a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is broken by repetitions, prolongations or abnormal stoppages of sounds and syllables. More than 70 million people speak with a stutter, or about 1 percent of the population. That statistic includes more than 3 million people in the U.S.

I cannot imagine what life is like for Springer. He lives in the national spotlight in a world where television cameras and recorders are stuck in his face.

Yet Springer speaks.

During the 2017 All-Star game, Springer wore a microphone and spoke with television commentators Joe Buck and John Smoltz.

After the game, he talked about the reasons why.

“I can’t spread a message to kids and adults if I’m not willing to put myself out there,” he said in a post-game interview. “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 or having fun.”

In 2014, Springer became spokesman for SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young. SAY is a non-profit organization offering comprehensive and innovative programs that address the physical, social and emotional impact of stuttering. This includes a summer camp for youth who stutter, after-school and weekend programs, speech therapy and support groups.

The George Springer Third Annual All-Star Bowling Benefit took place in Houston last June, with proceeds helping send children to Camp SAY.

Springer has embraced something he cannot change and is not letting it hold him back. I wish I could sit across the table from him and ask him what it’s like. I’d ask him about his mindset, what’s given him courage, what’s gotten him through.

In a video interview posted on ESPN.com, Springer said:

“I tried to avoid it at all costs, but I had to speak. I had to talk, and I just said, ‘You know what, I am who I am, I’m just going to say what I have to say, and that’s the end of it.’”

I think Springer’s story is an inspiration for all of us.

How many times do we limit ourselves by perceived weaknesses? I’m guilty as anyone of attempting to hide my flaws.

What would happen if we, like Springer, embraced our unique set of gifts and abilities, not allowing limitations to hold us back?

What if we lived life to the fullest and pursued our dreams, accepting the fact that no one is perfect, while at the same time recognizing that everyone has unique contributions only they can make?

That is empowering.

In the same ESPN interview, Springer said:

“I’m not a big fan of the word speech impediment because it doesn’t stop me. You can’t control it, so you might as well go out and be who you are and enjoy your life.”

Janae Rempel is former sports editor for the Free Press. You can still reach her at Janae@hillsborofree­press.com.