Springer Enjoys Fenway Visit

Still Not Playing Because Of Quad Injury

Red Sox Hall Of Fame

From left, Roger Clemens, Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez throw out ceremonial pitches after being inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame before a game between the Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on Thursday night. (Jim Rogash / Getty Images / August 14, 2014)

BOSTON — His favorite Fenway memory is his first Fenway memory.

"Mo Vaughn hit a walk-off grand slam against Seattle," George Springer said Thursday in the Houston Astros' clubhouse.

Vaughn drove an 0-and-1 from Paul Spoljaric down the right field line to cap a seven-run Red Sox ninth. It was April 10, 1998, the home opener. A young Red Sox fan from New Britain was attending his first game. George Springer was 8.

Was he jumping up and down like crazy?

"Absolutely," Springer said.

Nomar Garciaparra, one of four men inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame Thursday, led off that day against Randy Johnson. Pedro Martinez, inducted alongside Nomar, Roger Clemens and broadcaster Joe Castiglione, was only 24 hours away from pitching a two-hitter in his Fenway debut.

"As a kid, I was here all the time," said Springer, whose rather remarkable Astros rookie season was derailed by a quad injury that put him on the disabled list July 20. "Who knows how many times? That whole era, that was the time when I was growing up ... Nomar, then they got David Ortiz, everybody.

"This is cool. I wish it was a little bit of a difference in the circumstance, but just to be here as a player for the first time is obviously special to me."

Springer never played in any high school or college All-Star games at Fenway or at the Astros' next stop, Yankee Stadium. As of 4:30 p.m., he hadn't taken a tour of Fenway yet, hadn't ducked inside the Green Monster, hadn't explored every nook of the old yard.

"But that," he said, "is the plan."

Springer grew up in New Britain, 60 miles from Vaughn's hometown of Norwalk and only 110 miles from Fenway Park. The year Springer was born, 1989, Mo played minor league ball in New Britain. Yeah, Mo was his favorite and he has never met him.

Springer has met another guy who pitched in New Britain. Clemens has served as a special pitching instructor for the Astros. He had already left the Red Sox after the 1996 season and moved on to the Blue Jays before going to the Yankees, Astros and ultimately back to the Yankees, retiring in 2007. Former general manager Dan Duquette said in 1996 that Clemens was in the twilight of his career. As Rocket pointed out Thursday, it was a long twilight. Did young George already view the Rocket as the enemy in 1998?

"No, no," Springer said. "It was more like, 'Wow! That's Roger!' As a kid you could see all the things he could do.

"I've spoken to him [since Springer joined the Astros organization]. He introduced himself. A guy of his stature, you're kind of taken aback. It's like, 'Wow!'"

The intersection of the Rocket and a young guy rocketing to major league fame on this day was a fascinating one. Clemens was the hero out of Houston. Springer, with 20 home runs and 50 RBI in only 78 rookie games for the Astros, is the budding star in Houston.

Drafted 11th overall by the Astros in 2011, Springer was the highest pick ever out of UConn. Rather than start the clock on his service time toward salary arbitration and free agency, the Astros kept stalling before bringing him to the majors. Finally, on April 16, they could delay no longer. He was too good, too dynamic in the outfield, with too much pop in his bat. Springer was batting .353 when the Astros called him up from Triple A.

Springer, hitting .231 in the majors, was AL Rookie of the Month in May, before going on the disabled list in July with the left quad injury. His rehab assignment in Quad Cities — of all places — was supposed to get him back in the lineup. Instead, he was been shut down two more weeks after aggravating the injury. The chance for the kid to dazzle at Fenway and in the Bronx will have to wait until next year.

"It's obviously hard not to play, in general, but especially now," he said. "This is tough. I'm not playing, but my family is coming up. I'm excited about that."

Springer and the Astros stood on the top step of their dugout as the Red Sox held their pregame ceremonies. Clemens would have been booed out of the joint in 1999, but this is 2014 and Red Sox fans have proven to be a forgiving lot. Clemens received a polite reception. Fewer cheers than Garciaparra, who always seemed so miserable in Boston for such an icon, and certainly fewer than the lovable Pedro.

A team's Hall of Fame also is different than Cooperstown. The baseball writers are not nearly as forgiving. Although he won 354 games, seven Cy Youngs and is third all-time in strikeouts, Clemens got only 37.6 percent of the vote — half of what is needed for induction — in his first year on the ballot. It's going to be a long road.

"Roger and Barry Bonds are two guys I think had enough numbers before anything came out to actually earn a spot in the Hall of Fame," Martinez said during a media session earlier in the day. "They dominated the time that they came up and stayed in the big leagues until those things happened. I believe they have a legit chance, and I think, with time, the voters will take into consideration what they did previously."

Pedro ducked into the Clemens Q and A session and peppered the Rocket with a few questions. It was good fun. This isn't as much fun: As a Hall of Famer voter, I haven't voted for Clemens and don't intend to at this point. I do think the day will come — I don't know exactly when and how — when the Hall of Fame includes the juicers in some fashion.

For his part, Clemens remains delusional. He insists he was clean. He insists he isn't preoccupied with Cooperstown. This is a guy who grabbed dirt from the field after every milestone, who cherishes the history of the game. That 37.6 percent has to be killing him.

"No not at all," he insisted to reporters. "I have zero control over that. If that happens, it'd be great. … I don't know if it's that important. It's not going to change me as a person. I tell people I've got bits and pieces of us there now. We go visit those people and they're great to us, but it's not something I sit up and worry about every day.

"I know what I did in my career and how I did it. I did it right. I can't control what people think or people that don't look at facts."

Clemens, who said he'd go into Cooperstown with a Red Sox hat if inducted, has his own truths. No, he never tested positive for steroids or HGH, but his name was mentioned over and over and over again in the Mitchell Report. There is enough circumstantial evidence against Clemens to choke a horse. Yes, he was cleared of six counts of lying to Congress about PEDs in 2012 and he uses that as proof he didn't juice. No, Rocket, it only means you beat a perjury rap.

This is how obstinate and delusional he is. Asked if he would have changed anything over the past 15 years, Clemens, 52, answered, "Nothing."

Twenty eight years Clemens' junior, Springer stood with the other Astros watching the Red Sox Hall of Fame ceremony. Nomar, Rocket, Pedro. A young Red Sox fan had to be eating it up. Maybe this young rocket from New Britain will get to Cooperstown one day and he'll do it without the dark cloud of those who ruled during his youth.

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