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Curtis Granderson has put together an impressive resume in his 16 seasons in Major League Baseball. He started his career with the Detroit Tigers, and played on seven teams and in two World Series.
But if it wasn’t for the support of his community, he might never have made it this far.
A 'Grand' Debut
Soon after getting the call-up in 2004, Curtis Granderson got to play in his hometown, Chicago. And on day three of that series, he recorded his first Major League hit, much to the elation of some special fans who came to see his debut.
"I get the hit. They announce my name. The little section of 60 people are cheering," Granderson recalls. "And then the Chicago White Sox — to this day I'm very thankful for it — they put it up on the board: 'First Major League hit for Curtis Granderson.' They usually don't do that for the visiting team, but they did that for me. So that was really cool."
It’s memories like that one, moments that involve family, childhood friends and his hometown, that helped shape Granderson into the man that he is today and keep the veteran outfielder grounded and grateful.
Granderson first found the game because he couldn’t find his friends.
"All the friends in my neighborhood, we would go to the pool together, ride our bikes together, do this together," Granderson says, "and one day nobody was there. 'Where'd everyone go?' And my mom goes, 'They all went and signed up for baseball.' Well, I don't want to be left out, so I went and signed up for baseball, too. And that's how it all started."
Granderson remembers that the teams in his tee-ball league were all named after NHL franchises. His was the Sabres.
"We had green t-shirts, and my mom didn't buy baseball pants," Granderson says. "I had jeans. Those were my baseball pants. And we all rotated positions. You were this position one inning, you were that position next inning.
"I have no idea if we won games or lost games, what place we were in. So I don't know if we were good or bad, but I just remember it was a lot of fun."
As a '90s kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago during the Bulls dynasty, Granderson had hoop dreams.
"You know, who didn't want to be like Mike?" Granderson says. "I remember having the six-foot-tall Jordan poster that I put on the back of my door. And then you had the little basketball hoop, the Jordan Jammer.
"But, even though that was happening, the Cubs were on every day after school. The White Sox were there. It was always Little League Day, Kid Day, Teacher Day, something Day. So I went to a lot of White Sox games — very affordable. That was cool. And I wanted to be like those guys. You know, Bo Jackson played for the White Sox. Harold Baines. Ozzie Guillen. Robin Ventura. Frank Thomas. All guys that were some really good guys to watch and want to be like. Some Hall of Famers in there."
Granderson found even more players to emulate when he was assigned a book report in elementary school.
"So I remember going to the library, and I wanted to do a baseball book," Granderson says. "And then I see Jackie Robinson. I see the Negro Leagues. The first thing that stood out to me was how they wore their uniforms. I was like, 'Man, that looks way better than the jeans I'm wearing out on the field, right? I want to look like that!' "
As Granderson got older, his uniforms looked more and more like the players he admired. And he started caring about wins and losses. But he wasn’t the guy everyone was talking about.
"There was times I just remember hearing about 'This kid was the top kid,' " Granderson says. "He was selected for the All-Star team first. Everybody wanted to see what that kid would do in high school. So I was always playing catch up. The fact that I was never 'that guy' gave me room and somebody to look for and hunt down."
Steadily, he did just that. Granderson was called up to the varsity team as a sophomore.
"Our teams were very good in high school. We had a lot of fun. I remember, junior, senior year, '98-'99, and No Limit Records was huge. Master P. and Silkk The Shocker, Mystikal, Mia X, all that. And '[I'm] Bout It, Bout It' came out.
"And we would get out on the field before the game, and our school was T.F. South. Thornton Fractional South. So we'd say, 'TFS is bout it, bout it.' "
Granderson stayed ‘bout it' through high school and received recruiting letters from colleges from all over the country. He chose the University of Illinois at Chicago. He played through his junior year and then started in the minors while juggling his schoolwork.
In 2002, Granderson was playing in the Florida State League in hot, humid, rainy conditions and in 10,000 seat stadiums that only managed to attract 200 to 300 fans. He thought seriously about quitting the game.
"I don't want to be left out, so I went and signed up for baseball, too."Curtis Granderson
"And I just was like, 'Man, all my friends are at home going to this concert, going to this beach, going to this barbecue,' " Granderson remembers. " 'What are you doing for the Fourth of July?' 'I have a game.' 'Well, we're at this party.' And you know how it is, you call with everybody in the background. You can hear all the noise going on.
" 'You going to see some fireworks?' 'Well, they're supposed to do fireworks after the game, but I'm going to be in the locker room.' 'You're getting barbecue?' 'They're supposed to bring down food from the concession stand. So, hopefully, if they didn't sell it all, I can get a burger.' Right?
"All this is going on. I'm just like, 'Man, this isn't ... I don't know if this is it.' "
One night, Granderson got on the phone with Joe, a friend since 4th grade.
"You know, him and I are chatting," Granderson says. "We had free nights and weekends back then. We just chatted about non-baseball stuff, stuff that we would back home. And we're just talking."
Those feelings of doubt and loneliness began to subside. And Granderson found joy in playing the game again.
He went on to get his college degree. In 2004, he had just finished his season with the Class Double-A Erie Seawolves.
"After every season, I would just take my glove, toss it away. And my cleats, because they'd been worn out, used up, right? I'm going to use new ones next year," Granderson says. " I get called into the office and they go, 'You're going to Detroit.' I was like 'What?!' So I gotta go back to the garbage can, pull my glove out, pull my cleats out and then get to Detroit the next day. And, wow, I'm in the Major Leagues.
"And this is something cool about my family. Everyone's like, 'Oh, did your family come out?' It's like, no. They're like, 'You're coming to Chicago in two weeks. We'll wait and see you then.' Now, I'm in Detroit. Detroit and Chicago is only a three-and-a-half-hour ride away.
"I make it to Chicago. I play the first game. My dad's in a softball league. He goes, 'I got a softball game tomorrow.' So he doesn't show for the second game. Dmitri Young is a teammate of mine with the Tigers, [he] goes, 'Your dad's not here?' 'Man, he had a softball game.' He goes, 'That's why I love your parents, man. They know where their priorities are.' They're like, 'We'll see you later, son.' And that's just how it was. And I think that helped me, too. Like, I was never better than anybody. And it’s been so helpful. They never put too much pressure on me."
Granderson earned a reputation of being a genuine guy in the clubhouse and someone who really cared about his hometown. And when he was asked how he planned to use his platform, what cause he would focus on, for him it was a no- brainer: education and fitness.
That’s why he brings kids to college campuses to play baseball.
"You have kids that live walking distance from a college ... and have never been on a college campus before," Granderson says. "So now, when it's time for them to practice, 'This is what college looks like? You know what, no one in my family's ever gone, but this seems kind of cool. Maybe I might want to do this.' Right?
"You know, Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. — call it a good or a bad thing, however you want to look at it. But because of that, some people never leave their neighborhood.
"2017, I had a kid, 10 years old, a black kid, come up to me, 'Hey, Coach, that's my first white person I've seen. In real life.' This is 2017. So these are problems that were faced in Chicago and all over the U.S., and these are things that I'm trying to help and hopefully move in the right direction. You're not going to fix it today, but you're gonna hopefully move it in the right direction."
Granderson has quietly crafted a career of staying ‘bout it,' both on the field and off. The three-time All-Star, three-time Marvin Miller Man of the Year, winner of the Silver Slugger and Roberto Clemente awards, recently made the top-100 all-time home run list. He now has 343.
His Twitter and Instagram feeds aren’t filled with boast posts. He publicizes non-profit partnerships, team wins, the kids that participate in his Grand Kids Foundation — not his every thought or every meal.
"I’m always big into living in the moment, enjoying it," Granderson says. "I will let you know I enjoy eating every day, but you also don’t need to see what I eat every day. Unless it’s something really good, then I put it out there. So that’s just been me."
"The fact that I was never 'that guy' gave me room and somebody to ... hunt down."Curtis Granderson
The Final Curve(ball)
This season, Granderson brought that attitude to the Miami Marlins. As a veteran in the clubhouse, he’s got stories to share from playing in the World Series to not overthinking it. He even writes on the bill of his cap, "Don’t think, just play."
Just how long he'll continue to do it all is still a question.
"People go, 'You started playing when?' " Granderson says. "Like my teammates, 'cause we got a very young team here. I go, 'Yeah, I've been playing for a while.' I didn't realize it. I think I'm still 23. You know, I was just in school. I graduated. I've been to the World Series. All these different things. Now it's starting to kind of hit me.
"I'm the oldest guy on this team. I've never had that happen. I'm that guy now. I want to see these guys go on and do amazing. Get them a World Series, make All-Star games, end up in the record books, destroy everything that I've ever done."
He wouldn’t tell me when he plans to retire, but Granderson says he knows he’s not going to hit the 20-year career mark.
"I'm getting closer to that final curve, just the way the game is going," Granderson admits. "I never thought I'd play this long. So, whenever the day happens to be done, I'm excited for what comes next."
And we’ll all have to pay close attention to when that day arrives, ‘cause he’ll likely leave the game just as played. Quietly.
This segment aired on September 14, 2019.
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