As we previewed on SportzEdge last week, George Springer could have passed another former University of Connecticut baseball star of days gone by, Walter Dropo, with the greatest home run total in one major league season by someone who once belted them out for UConn.
The stage was set when the Houston Astros, with centerfielder Springer, descended upon Fenway Park last Thursday for a series of four games critical for both teams. The day before, Springer connected with his 34th round-tripper of the season (a grand slam), which matched Dropo’s output produced in his rookie year 67 years prior.
Another four-bagger would make Springer the all-time UConn leader on a major league level. But, in the face of the inviting Green Monster, it never came. And so Springer, no matter what he does in the playoffs, remains, at least for another season, tied with the immortal Dropo.
“Poetic Justice” is probably how most followers of the Huskies are reacting.
How could they have favored either Springer or the late Dropo, the “Moosup Moose,” in this mythical competition? As pointed out in our earlier article, Dropo is still arguably the greatest athlete to have played at Storrs, having starred in football, basketball, and baseball, with opportunities to turn pro at the highest level in all three sports.
Dropo was an American League All-Star as was New Britain’s Springer this past summer. He was selected by the fans to the starting outfield along with Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge, certainly not bad company. George wore a microphone during the All-Star Game to sound encouragement to those who stutter, a condition to which he is also subject.
As a baseball player, he may not have even reached his potential. He already has hit four bases-loaded home runs in a four-year career that is about to take him to his first postseason and another showdown against the Boston Red Sox. He may even get to face Matt Barnes, one of his former college teammate under Coach Tom Penders, and now a Boston relief pitcher.
Drama in Fenway
The Astros won big on Thursday and before beating Boston again on Friday, Diane Harper, who was Springer’s first-grade teacher at Holmes Elementary School in New Britain, presented him with a plate of homemade cookies. As a kid, George made the same trip from New Britain to Boston many times. Yes, he was a Red Sox fan growing up.
While the Red Sox were in need of just one victory to cement the Eastern Division crown on Saturday, and Houston was fighting for home field advantage in the second round of the playoffs, Springer had a couple of chances to at least delay the Boston locker room celebration.
The Red Sox led 5-2 in the seventh inning and the bases were full of Astros. Springer was facing David Price, reborn as a temporary relief pitcher. A home run would turn the game into a 6-5 Houston lead. Those who were both Red Sox and UConn fans may not have known what they wanted.
Springer fanned on three pitches, the last looking at a 95 mph fastball, and the drama was quickly over.
One more chance
But George had another opportunity to do some damage and set a new UConn MLB mark. He came to the plate once more in the ninth inning with two outs, one man on base, and the Red Sox leading 6-3. He could have narrowed the deficit to 6-5.
His adversary on the mound this time was the Red Sox ace closer, Craig Kimbrel. Again Springer struck out, this time missing on a 98 mph pitch, to end the game and the Eastern Division race.
Springer didn’t know
Springer didn’t even know about his connection to the Walt Dropo legend until the Red Sox’ radio voice Joe Castiglione, another Connecticut native (Hamden), sought him out prior to Friday’s game. Castiglione said that George was thrilled to learn that he and Dropo were linked together in UConn fame.
With both teams resting most of their starters in what became a meaningless finale on Sunday, manager A. J. Hinch kept Springer out of the lineup. That was just as well for UConn fans. Their two notable batting stars in Major League Baseball, Walter Dropo and George Springer, 67 years apart. remained tied for most “UConn homers” in one season.