Go to an NBA game sometime soon and chances are you'll see a former Husky on one team's roster.
The landscape of professional basketball is littered with men (and women, if you count the WNBA) who once called Storrs home.
There are the stars, like future Hall of Famer Ray Allen, the up-and-comers like Kemba Walker and Andre Drummond, and the role players, like AJ Price and Jeff Adrien.
There are few college basketball programs that have so efficiently stocked the shelves of NBA teams with quality players as UConn has.
The brand-name success isn't nearly as pronounced in the NFL, but UConn over the years has still managed to land an impressive amount of Huskies on football rosters. Some, like Kendall Reyes and Sio Moore, are beginning to make a name for themselves and increase the reputation of UConn's football program in the process.
But what about Major League Baseball? America's pastime has pretty much been closed to UConn players. In fact, a quick look at Wikipedia (I know, I know, but it's the best source material I could find for this) showed that, before 2012, only 11 former Husky baseball players had made the big leagues. Most were in The Show for a cup of coffee, and one of the more successful "alumni", Roberto Hernandez, was barely a part of the UConn program in the mid-1980s long enough to be considered a product of Storrs.
UConn's most notable big leaguer was Walt Dropo, the 1950 Rookie of the Year for Boston who played 13 seasons for five different teams.
Pretty good, but not exactly a legacy.
Yet things, they are a changin ... and there's one man to thank for that.
If you've been following the still-early baseball season you've probably heard about some slugger in Houston named George Springer. The 24-year-old outfielder has been so impressive he's actually received a decent amount of national attention, despite playing for the sport's current bottom feeders. But Springer, called up from the minors in mid-April, has quickly become a star.
If, as the Braves Greg Maddox and Tom Glavine once informed us, "chicks dig the long ball" then Springer's dance card should be pretty full. The young outfielder has 10 home runs, second to only Jose Abreu of the White Sox for rookies (and there's legitimate debate as to whether Abreu, who played in the Cuban leagues for years, should really be considered a "rookie"). He's hit seven home runs in the last seven days while posting a .333 average in May, with a slugging percentage over .700.
In his last 21 games, Springer has four doubles and one triple to those 10 homers, while driving in 24 and scoring 21.
In what is expected to be another abysmal season for the Astros-they've lost 100+ games three straight years and don't figure to do much better in 2014-Springer has become the one shining light for the 'Stros fan base
Oh ... did I mention Springer is a Husky?
George Springer was a part of that Jim Penders team that brought about the program's first Big East title in 2011 and back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament. Several players from that squad were drafted by MLB clubs but Springer was clearly the star. He set a record for home runs in a career at UConn with 46, and was selected 11th in the draft by Houston in 2011, the highest by far any UConn player had ever gone.
Big George spent only two years in the minors for the Astros, hitting .302 with 65 homers and 207 RBI. Not too shabby.
It was expected that Springer would make the team this year right out of spring training, but his March struggles, coupled with the fact that the Astros didn't want to lose a year of control over Springer by bringing him up too early (cough ... cheap ... cough), conspired to see him sent down to begin the year. Yet, there was so much fan backlash that the team eventually caved and, in late April, called up the slugger.
After a slow start, Big George has come on, looking every bit like the top prospect Houston has been waiting for.
As far as UConn goes, I don't know that this has any lasting repercussions. I'm sure it helps to have a former player tearing up Big League pitching and getting his name on SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight every evening, but college baseball remains woefully less popular than either basketball or football. Plus, considering MLB teams have the ability to draft players out of high school and stick them in the minors to develop, it's hard to say how much recruiting can be helped by a potential star like Springer bursting on the scene. Is a kid that's getting offers from the Yankees or Red Sox going to choose three years at UConn over a few years riding the buses in the minors and getting paid to do it just because Springer is on ESPN every night? Probably not.
And there's also always the chance that Springer's early success turns into nothing more than a flash in the pan. Baseball is by far the hardest sport in which to predict who will become and stay a star. In basketball, you can watch one year of a guy like, say, Damian Lillard with the Trailblazers and know that, barring injury, he'll be great. Same goes for Andrew Luck in football. There's little chance he goes from budding star QB to out of the league in another two years.
In baseball, it happens all the time. Someone bursts into the Bigs, looks unstoppable, and three years later he's on some Independent League team's roster. Springer looks like a star in the making - a clone of Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins who combines natural power with speed. He could be that rare five-tool player that can influence the game in all facets. But he also strikes out at an alarming rate, and he's only played in about 40 games meaning "the league" hasn't had a chance to adjust. When they do-throwing more curves, getting ahead if he's likely to take early in the count-it will be interesting to see if Springer can adjust right back.
In other words, all the pub he's getting now, all the accolades and excitement, could die off just as quickly.
But that's a concern for the future. Right now, it's simply neat to see a product of UConn having this kind of success. It's fun to think that someone who called Storrs home could be a MLB star. It's enjoyable to follow Springer's success knowing he has a connection to the Huskies and State of Connecticut as a whole.
What does it mean for the future? What does it mean for Jim Penders and the Husky program? Who knows. Maybe nothing. But it's cool to watch, regardless, and I know I'll be rooting for Springer to keep putting up monster numbers ... except when Houston plays the Yankees.