Q&A with George Springer, the brand-new, very expensive and finally healthy Toronto Blue Jay
His record-setting deal marks a turning point for the Blue Jays from pretenders to contenders
The six-year, $150-million contract you signed in January makes you the most expensive free-agent acquisition in Toronto sports history. What was it like to sign that deal?
Extremely exciting. People look at the dollars and the years, but for me it’s much more than that. Since the Jays are the only major league team in Canada, we’re playing for an entire country. It’s an honour. And I can’t say enough about the young guys the team already has in place.
Sports fans here are haunted by this fear that free agents avoid Toronto because it can be cold, it’s foreign, it’s different. Were those factors for you?
No. Those were the furthest things from my mind. I saw Toronto as an opportunity to embrace something new. I mean, obviously I understand Canada is a different country. But from a weather standpoint, I grew up in Connecticut, so I’ve been accustomed to cold weather my whole life.
What do you know about the city?
I came here several times as a visiting player, and I can honestly say it was the only place I’ve been where I felt okay about not having my phone work—it was too complicated to arrange the cross-border roaming. But I didn’t care. I always felt safe, and that speaks to the type of place that Toronto is, the type of people that were in the city. I loved just walking around, and I remember some great restaurants. There was always stuff going on. Downtown, around the ballpark, around the aquarium, around the CN Tower. My wife, Charlise, feels the same way. She’d often come on the road trip because she liked the city so much.
After signing a contract as large as yours, what does one do or buy to mark the occasion?
I just gave Charlise a big hug. I’m not a guy who buys much. I like small things. I had a beer, she had water, and we made a toast to new things. We looked online at houses and apartments and stuff, just to familiarize ourselves with the area. Then we looked online for some spots near Toronto to go fishing, because that’s what we love to do.
And what did you find?
Lake… Muskoka? Right? Don’t quote me on the pronunciation. As a team, we’re obviously playing in Florida right now, but whenever we’re allowed to cross the border again, I’m getting into all that stuff. From my experience growing up in the northeast, I just assumed there are lakes and woods all over the place. And I discovered that, sure enough, about one hour outside the city, there’s lots of fishing and other outdoor activities to do.
Sure, and the city is obviously on a lake. I believe former MLB outfielder Yasiel Puig did some fishing on Lake Ontario a few years back.
Yeah, I’m excited to do that whenever we get up there.
I understand you’ll be bringing some new cargo with you.
Yes sir. I became a father in February.
Congratulations! What’s the name?
George. He’s the fourth.
That made the naming decision easy, I guess?
We went back and forth a little bit on that, but I like it. It’s a good name. He’s sleeping right now, thank God. He had his nights and days mixed up a bit in the beginning, but he’s got it sorted now.
What have you learned about being a dad so far?
A lot. That there’s no instruction manual. That the kid runs every aspect of your life. When I saw him for the first time, I was just in awe. I have a billion times more respect for my wife and what a woman has to go through. Charlise is so strong. She has been unbelievable. She never complained, which I know is very hard to do. I’ve also learned a lot about myself—how to focus on them, and not stress about other things and try to enjoy life.
How hard was it for Charlise to be pregnant during a pandemic?
Very hard. Charlise is a very active, outgoing person, and she basically had to hunker down and stay inside. Baby showers were pretty much non-existent.
She’s a former softball star and now a personal trainer. Who’s the better all-around athlete?
Ooh, that’s a loaded question. She’s a really good athlete. She can hit. And she’s a really good basketball player, to the point where if we’re with my friends and they’re choosing up sides, they’re like, we want her. So I’ll say her. I just play baseball.
Your own mom is an ardent supporter of yours—and, I gather, a superstitious one, too?
Yes. If I have a good game, she’ll wear the same sweatshirt the next day or make the same meal. If I get a hit in my first at-bat, she’ll freeze in place. It doesn’t matter where she is—her seat, the parking lot. If I don’t get a hit the next time I’m up, then she’ll carry on. It’s a lot like us athletes. My dad, on the other hand, will pace around the stadium because he just can’t sit still.
You grew up in Connecticut—what was your childhood team?
I was a Red Sox fan.
Yeah, I was at that line where you can go south and be a Yankees fan or go north and be a Sox fan. And my family has a history as Red Sox fans.
But now, obviously….
A Jays fan now, yes, 100 per cent.
Your dad was an accomplished college baseball player. Your mom was an elite gymnast. Was your career effectively preordained?
In a way. As a kid, I played all sports. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I started to play baseball 24-7.
You’ve had a stutter since you were young. How hard was that?
Brutal. I’d avoid answering the phone and ordering at restaurants. I learned to cope, but things didn’t change much until I was 24. I did a talk for the Stuttering Association for the Young and thought to myself, I can’t spread a message to “Be who you are” if I’m not doing it myself. So I just said screw it and embraced it.
Did you develop techniques to deal with it?
Yes, I found ways to slow my speech down by taking a breath. Or I’ll feel it coming and I’ll switch a word on you and you won’t even know it.
Did you know that President Biden has a stutter?
Yeah, I thought it was cool when I found that out. But you know what, there are a lot of people who stutter. Not everyone has a really bad one, where it takes you five minutes to get the word out.
I don’t wish to rehash the 2017 sign-stealing scandal, which has been so thoroughly covered elsewhere. But I am interested in your approach to haters—in this day and age, dealing with trolls is a workplace hazard in just about every industry. What’s your general approach to dealing with detractors?
I just stay close to my circle. I stay close to home. I don’t have any social media. I live my life the way I want my life to be. The people I want involved. I have a close-knit friend group, a close-knit family, and that’s just about all anybody needs in life. There’s always somebody who’s got something bad to say, no matter who you are or what you do.
You’ve committed to six years of trotting around on artificial turf in Toronto. I know how you play the game—hard, no holding back. Is the turf a concern?
No. You know what you get when you play there. I know the organization is doing its absolute best to find a surface that is still turf but is easier on us as players. But at the same time, I believe that it’s my job to prepare to play on that surface. I can’t complain about it. Enjoy it, go have fun, but make sure I stay on top of my body. I might limit what we normally do on grass—if you’re normally out there for three drills, maybe I do two. You know, something like that. There are ways to do it. I’m not going to change the way I play. I’ll play the same way on concrete. In general, I try to eat clean, give my body the proper boost. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, a lot of fish, a lot of lean protein. I always stay hydrated, which is hugely important for an athlete.
You’ve been with your new team for a while now. Who in the clubhouse has been the most welcoming?
Everyone, in their own way. I’ve played with Teoscar Hernandez and known him since 2014 or 2015. I’ve known Randal Grichuk for a while. I know Lourdes Gurriel because of his brother, Yuli, who’s my former teammate. It’s been fun. There have been a ton of guys who are extremely welcoming. I feel great in the clubhouse. I look at it like it’s my job to earn their respect. It’s not their job to adapt to me. I need to watch and listen and be who I am. Marcus Semien and I have talked a lot about fishing and about hitting.
When the time comes for the team to move north, do you plan to buy, or just rent, bring the whole extended family up, or what’s the plan?
Yeah, we’ve pushed that to the backburner for the moment. Obviously the plan is for the team to get there as soon as possible, but I think we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I do know our families are excited to get up there as soon as possible, whether we rent or buy.
Any advice from teammates?
A lot of guys live around the ballpark so they can walk to work. I like grass, I like woods. If there’s an area like that, I might have to check it out. I know my wife likes the downtown area, so maybe there’s something that’s got both and is close.
Six years from now, when your contract is finished, how will you determine whether your time in Toronto has been a success?
It’s easy. It’s about the team and how the team does. A lot of people get stuck on individual stats, and I get that completely. But I want to help this team grow. I want to help the younger guys have Hall of Fame careers. Hopefully, when my time is done, the organization will be in a better place, and I’ll have been a part of that.