Disabato: Curtis Granderson gives back to community with two-day youth event
By Pat Disabato email@example.com Twitter: @disabato August 9, 2013 9:58PM
Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson starts the players out with warm-up exercises at the Lansing Sports Complex on Thursday, August 8, 2013. | Jim Karczewski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 12, 2013 6:43AM
The smile on his face was genuine.
The words of encouragement sincere.
His act of generosity symbolic of a person whose desire is to make a positive impact on the lives of impressionable youth.
Curtis Granderson hasn’t forgotten where his path to Major League Baseball stardom began. The Lynwood native and New York Yankees outfielder, through his Grand Kids Foundation, organized a two-day event for players in the Lansing Little League, which now includes kids from Lynwood.
Granderson made it a point to select players from Lansing Little League who shared the same dedication, loyalty and love for the game he does.
“This (event) allowed me an opportunity to give back to my hometown Little League, where I not only started my baseball career, but developed fundamental on and off-field skills,” said Granderson, in the final year of a six-year, $43 million contract.
With the Yankees in town playing the White Sox, Granderson considered it a perfect time to give back to the communities that helped mold him into the man and player he is today.
He grew up playing youth baseball in Lynwood and went on to star at T.F. South. He was an electric player, one who could alter a game with his bat, arm and legs. However, it wasn’t until he attended the Illinois-Chicago that Granderson, a left-handed-hitting outfielder with power, developed the skills that would transform him into a three-time All-Star.
Lansing and Lynwood, like most other communities, have experienced a significant drop in interest in their leagues. Lynwood’s was so severe it was forced to combine with its rival, Lansing, this season.
The reasons for the decline include the explosion of full-time travel ball and baseball’s decline in popularity among youth, particularly in minority communities.
Once 700 kids participated in Lansing Little League. Now there are approximately 330.
Granderson stepped up and offered his time and resources.
“It’s tough,” Granderson said. “Ultimately, we’ve got to get the interest back and stress the benefits of playing baseball. The friendships, goal-setting, developing a strong work ethic and going out and having fun kept us off the streets. I want kids to know they have options.”
On Monday, he hosted a pregame meet-and-greet with approximately 55 kids and adults at U.S. Cellular Field. Yes, that was the same day Alex Rodriguez made his much-anticipated and much-scrutinized return to the Yankees.
With the media circus Rodgriguez’s return created, Granderson easily could have scrapped the event. That he didn’t shows what type of man he is.
Granderson provided transportation to The Cell, along with tickets and food.
On Thursday, he hosted the Grand Kids Little League All-Star Game at Lansing Old Timers Sports Complex. Each kid, ages 10 to 12, received a jersey, medallion and necklace, compliments of Granderson.
Dressed in jeans, a black “Grand Kids” T-shirt and dark sneakers, Granderson participated in various baseball drills, posed for pictures and signed autographs.
He also stressed the importance of education, which wasn’t lost on the kids.
“What I’ll remember most is he said I have to get good grades to stay in baseball,” said Jordan Williams, 12, from Lynwood.
“What made the biggest impact on me was how he stressed education,” said Julio Lozano, 13, of Lansing. “He said only 38 players in MLB have a college degree.”
Granderson, 32, also stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with or without the benefits of playing baseball.
“I want kids to stay active,” Granderson said. “I played baseball, basketball, track and bowling. There’s nothing wrong with doing all of them. It helps you stay in shape.”
Granderson has been doing a lot of giving of his time and money. He made a personal donation of $5 million to UIC for the development of Curtis Granderson Stadium, which beyond being home of the Flames baseball program, also will be utilized for local youth teams and organizations. Construction is set to begin in the fall.
For Granderson, the opportunity to give back is an important one.
“It’s very important,” he said. “I was once where these kids are right now. If me being here can make a difference in their lives, it’s the least I can do.”