Someone who admires George Springer ... every syllable
It’s not necessarily prudent, the idea of finding a hero through sports. Famous athletes, as is the case with others blessed by celebrity, only reveal what they want, masking inner demons that would hardly convey heroism.
But I have a new hero. A baseball player. The World Series MVP, actually. George Springer, the New Britain native and former player at UConn.
Springer is my hero for nothing he has ever accomplished in baseball.
It’s because he’s overcome an affliction we both share: stuttering.
He’s overcome it by dealing with it.
It’s a daily struggle.
“I can’t let anything in life I can’t control slow me down or stop me from being who I want to be,’’ Springer told the media during the World Series.
I got teary listening to Springer during pregame and postgame interviews. For most people, if you didn’t know he stuttered, you wouldn’t know. But me? It was looking in a mirror (except he’s way better looking).
The stops and starts in his speech. The pause here. The pause there. The repeated word. All things you learn to cope when the simplest form of communication — speaking — feels like a burden.
I get asked often why I took an interest in writing.
The answer: Because there have been days I could not speak.
And I had something to say.
The magic of the keyboard is an elixir, even though my stuttering is drastically improved.
Springer spoke of his childhood when he used to be afraid to speak. He wouldn’t talk in school. He couldn’t order a meal at a restaurant. I’ve been there.
Do you know what it’s like to get called on in class, know the right answer, but be unable to say it?
Do you know what it’s like to call someone and not be able to identify yourself on the phone because you just can’t say your name?
The teasing in school?
People finishing your sentences for you?
It took me years of reading about the subject, some therapy from Dr. Alida Engel in New Haven and the encouragement of a friend to slay the dragon. Now I go on the radio every week with the great Lee Elci. I stutter some. But it’s mostly smooth. I’ve done television with Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant. I speak to English and journalism classes in schools. Public speaking has become routine.
Dr. Engel showed me the power of slowing down when speaking. Of not raising your voice. Slow and steady — not bad advice in all aspects of life — forces the stutter to all but disappear. But get me irritated or excited — and I’m Italian, remember — and I can’t string three words together.
Then there’s this: Most people in my life have been afraid to talk about this with me. It makes them uncomfortable, I assume. Thus they believe they’d make me uncomfortable, too. Au contraire.
And I do have one friend — we fight sometimes but nobody’s ever known me better — who isn’t shy about simply telling me, “slow down and stop stuttering.”
It helps immeasurably. Because slowing down, for me, is the key to fluency.
So few people realize the layers of the affliction. That’s because people take fluency for granted. I sought the help of insurance once to pay for a gadget that I thought might help the situation. The insurance drone on the other end of the phone said stuttering is not a disability and thus insurance wouldn’t pay.
I said to the drone, “have you ever been unable to say your name?”
The drone’s response: crickets.
That’s why I couldn’t get enough of Springer during the World Series. He wasn’t just fluent. But insightful. And fearless. He provided inspiration for me at levels he’ll never know.
Turns out Springer began speaking to SAY (Stuttering Association for the Young) after his rookie season in 2014. He decided to become a spokesperson.
“I had an epiphany,’’ he told columnist Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times (and a member of the stuttering fraternity as well). “I realized, seeing these kids and seeing the pain that they go through because they feel bullied and they feel isolated, and that’s so sad. So I decided right then and there, I’m going to expose myself as somebody who stutters, and if you see me in an interview or you see me on TV and I do it, I hope you do see it.
“When you stutter, it’s a very isolating feeling for a lot of people,’’ he said. “I was 17 before I met someone else who had a stutter. Now for all these kids who get to attend summer camp (affiliated with SAY) with kids who stutter, that’s great. They can see they’re not the only people out there.’’
No, there are three million of us in this country who stutter. And we fight it one syllable at a time. Therapy, friends and inspiration. Slow and steady.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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