A Connecticut family that dedicated everything to Little League® and groomed three children to reach the upper echelons of baseball and softball
George Springer Jr. and his friends grew up playing ball in the empty sandlots of Bristol, Conn., in the early 1970s. He had never heard of Williamsport. He didn’t know much about Little League®. But, a police officer and long-time Forestville (Conn.) Little League volunteer, Bob Watson, convinced a group of 7-year-olds to have their parents sign them up for Little League, and perhaps the one of the most storied family in Little League history started its first chapter.
The Road to Williamsport
The son of a Panama immigrant, who came to the United States with the dreams of being a professional baseball player, Mr. Springer obviously gravitated to the sport.
“My dad was such a positive influence on not just my life as a baseball player, but as a person. He was with me every step of the way,” said Mr. Springer. “He taught me the history of the game and helped reinforce what I learned on the Little League fields, and not just the Xs and Os, but how to be confident, overcome adversity, and all the positive life lessons that you learn on the baseball field. My parents were very supportive.”
When he was 8, he played his first Little League season.
“I was on a team called the Indians,” said Mr. Springer. “When I got that first uniform, it was the greatest thing ever. I put on that jersey, and thought I was a big leaguer.”
Mr. Springer soon showed promise as a baseball player. He was one of two 11-year-olds who made his All Star Team in 1975, and, after trying out again as a 12-year-old, made his second Little League Tournament team, coached by the same Mr. Watson who encouraged him to sign up for Little League as a 7-year-old.
“I was the starting pitcher for that first game, and I pitched a one or two hitter and hit a home run,” said Mr. Springer. “When I touched home plate, I looked up and my dad had my home run ball. To have that experience is amazing.”
Mr. Springer and his teammates advanced all the way to the 1976 Little League Baseball World Series. Then a single-elimination tournament, the Forestville Little League team lost its first game, but won their next two. He met Ernie Banks and Joe DiMaggio. He was brought in to pitch against Canada with the bases loaded and struck out the next batter with three straight pitches. He made memories and friendships that lasted a lifetime.
“I remember pulling into Williamsport and looking at that field. It looked enormous to us. It looked like Fenway. We couldn’t believe that we were going to play there,” said Mr. Springer. “You don’t remember the wins and losses. You remember the fun, the interactions with the kids, parents, and adults.”
A Connecticut Tale
Mr. Springer continued playing baseball after his Little League Baseball World Series run, but went on to play football at the University of Connecticut. While there, he met his future wife, Laura, who was on the Huskies’ gymnastics team and played softball as a teenager in Simsbury, Conn.
“When I was growing up, girls weren’t allowed to play Little League, yet,” said Mrs. Springer. “I would have loved that opportunity when I was younger. I was always competitive growing up.”
They settled in New Britain, Conn., where Mr. Springer opened a law practice, and he and his wife raised three children, George III, Nicole, and Lena.
“We never pushed our kids to one sport or another, we just encouraged them to try different things, whether that was sports, music, or other activities,” said Mr. Springer. “Both Laura and I tried to provide the best support to allow our kids to find out what they loved to do.”
Turns out, they loved baseball and softball. Soon, the three Springer children were showing aptitude in their schoolwork, music, and sports, but it was clear that George, Nicole, and Lena were destined for the diamond.
In 1997, after spending three seasons coaching his son at Walicki Little League, Mr. Springer took soon-to-be 8-year-old George III to Williamsport to share with him the experience he as a boy had playing in the Little League Baseball World Series.
“He is so proud to have played in (the Little League World Series),” said George III. “And to have played there (at Lamade Stadium) and to say ‘This is the field that I played on.’ He talks about it all the time. Sometimes it’s like ‘Alright, Dad. I get it. I know. I get it.’”
And while it was an opportunity for the two Georges to bond over baseball, it was a fortuitous run-in with the man who introduced George Jr. to Little League, Mr. Watson, that altered just how involved the Springer family would be in Little League.
“I was already coaching, but I ran into Bob Watson,” said Mr. Springer. “He told me not to limit myself. Little League needs good volunteers, the kids need good volunteers, and I took it to heart.”
Mr. Springer went back to Connecticut and met with the current League President, who pleaded with Mr. Springer for help. At the time, Walicki Little League’s numbers were dropping, it was struggling financially, there weren’t enough fields, and there were very limited opportunities for softball players or at the teenage divisions.
The Springers Step Up
“I felt like, how could I not step up to help? My son was in the league. My daughter, Nicole, was in the league, and my youngest, Lena, was coming up and playing Tee Ball,” said Mr. Springer. “The values that Little League instills are too important, so I knew I had to do what I could to help build the league and ensure that other children get the opportunity to participate.”
With his wife and children by his side, Mr. Springer took over as League President in 1997. Together, they grew Walicki Little League into a rousing success. Participation more than doubled. Team numbers swelled. They added softball, with Mrs. Springer stepping up as a coach, building fields and running tournaments. They worked with the city to find space to add a full-size baseball field so that they could offer teenage programs, and in one weekend, Mr. Springer and four volunteers built a field so they could offer a Junior League Baseball program. The league doubled their revenue and went into the black for the first time. And, one of Mr. Springer’s proudest accomplishments was implementing a coaches training program, mandating that all of his coaches were trained to help their teams on-field skills grow, but much more importantly, that they were having fun, and learning the important life lessons that are at the core of the Little League experience. For help with that training, Mr. Springer turned to the person who drilled him with those life lessons, his father, who had spent his life in education.
“Looking back at it, it was crazy, but a lot of fun, and worth it all,” said Mrs. Springer. “George gave 100 percent to his family and 150 percent to Little League.”
As the Walicki Little League prospered, so did the Springer family. Yet, despite Mr. Springer’s law practice flourishing, he and his wife increased their time spent volunteering. They made sure their children, and the others in the league, were having fun, growing their skills, and developing as great teammates.
When it came time for the District’s first 9/10-Year-Old Softball Tournament, it was the five Springers and two umpires getting the entire tournament together. All of that hard work paid off.
The Kids Time to Shine
“No parent could possibly imagine the success that our three children have had,” said Mr. Springer. “Every moment is a pinch-me moment.”
Today, George and Laura Springer need to find time to travel. When Little League spoke with the Springers, they had just returned from watching their youngest daughter, Lena, a pitcher for the Ohio State Buckeyes softball team, compete in the NCAA Super Regionals.
“Little League was my first love,” said Lena. “I had dreams of being where I am now when I played Little League Softball, and when I go through a tough workout, I think of me as a 7-year-old, wanting to be where I am, and it pushes me through. If it wasn’t for Little League, I would not have the opportunities I have now to travel the country, and meet so many people. Little League is so much more than just putting a kid out there with a glove and bat, it’s about development as a player and person. Little League has had a tremendous impact on my life, and I am forever grateful for the experience.”
This summer, Lena will be representing her mother’s native Puerto Rico for the second time, playing on the national team. And she’s following in her sister’s footsteps. Nicole, now a softball coach at Southern Connecticut State University, who also played for Puerto Rico, and had four standout, all-conference seasons during her collegiate career, graduating from Central Connecticut State. She’s also a mom, with her son Bryce having some big Little League shoes to fill.
And, it’s hard to watch MLB highlights this year without hearing the name George Springer. After being named All-American at his parents’ alma mater, the University of Connecticut, and a stint on Team USA, the Houston Astros selected George III in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He made his big league debut in 2014, and, now in his third season, has been one of the top performers, starting in right field for the Houston Astros.
“I literally cry every day,” said Mrs. Springer. “To see what Georgie has done, through Little League, high school, college, Team USA, and my girls playing with a love and passion for the game. It’s a dream come true for all of our children. They just have a love of the game, and to see where they are today, it’s unbelievable.”
Parents of the Year
Through it all, George and Laura Springer look back not at the on-field accomplishments of their children, or their own sporting successes, but how they have been able to support their hometown community, and create opportunities for their children and their neighbors’ children to learn the lessons of hard work, dedication, sportsmanship, and so much more on the Little League fields in Connecticut.
The Springers return to Williamsport for the World Series regularly. This year, however, they will be guests of honor, having been named the 2016 George and Barbara Bush Little League Parents of the Year. Established in 1980, the recognition is presented annually to the parents of a Major League Baseball player who were actively involved in their son’s Little League experience. More than recognition of one set of parents annually, the Parents of the Year Award is designed to be a symbolic recognition of the millions of mothers and fathers who each year respond to the call of parental duty and help provide a wholesome healthy arena for leadership training for the children of their respective communities.
The award is named for former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, who were volunteers during their children’s early years in Texas, and continue to support Little League today.
“Little League would not be the most well-respected youth sports organization in the world without the dedication of the millions of Little League parents,” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League President and CEO. “Over the years, I have gotten to know George and Laura well, with George serving on the Little League International Advisory Board. Their steadfast commitment to their family, the Little League program, and ensuring that all the children in their community had positive on-field and off-field Little League experiences is second to none. We are pleased that we can recognize their dedication, and honor their entire family at the Little League Baseball World Series.”
The Springers have a Little League legacy that started in the 1970s, and spans two generations. Their baseball and softball accomplishments include participating in a Little League Baseball World Series, collegiate careers, All-Conference and All-American honors, coaching careers, MLB first-round drafts, national team participation, and more. But, what makes the Springers standout, is that, through it all, it’s been about something more.
“Through it all, working with the kids in the backyard, coaching them, everything, it is the values that you can bring home at the end of the day,” said Mr. Springer. “There is nothing greater than the Little League opportunity and the positive impact it can have on young people. It was a privilege for us to be involved, and to take those lessons that we learned in our youth, and as we navigated through our lives, pay it forward.”