|BASEBALL 2008: Leyland on Tigers' Curtis Granderson: "He's got it all"|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 20 March 2008 11:10|
The Detroit Tigers center fielder is coming off a spectacular season in which he was mentioned in the same breath with Willie Mays and Ty Cobb.
Unlike many baseball players, who skip college en route to the majors, the son of two teachers has two degrees.
The 27-year-old Granderson is popular in the clubhouse and accommodates the masses outside of it by signing autographs incessantly, visiting schools, writing blogs and traveling the world as a Major League Baseball ambassador.
``When you've got a guy like Curtis Granderson, no manager alive can mess him up,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ``He's got it all.
``Good looking. Articulate. Bright. Helluva of a player. Single.''
Granderson humbly agrees.
``I'm thankful for everything and I don't take anything for granted,'' he said softly.
In just his second full season in the majors, Granderson hit a baseball-best 23 triples last year and added 38 doubles, 23 homers and 26 stolen bases.
He joined Mays and Frank ``Wildfire'' Schulte as the only players in major league history in the 20-20-20-20 club, and Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins later joined the elite group. He hit more triples than any Tiger since Cobb had one more in 1917.
Granderson helped Detroit advance to the World Series in 2006 - the first time since 1984 - by matching a franchise record with a pair of homers in one postseason series against the New York Yankees.
The Tigers could've retained Granderson with one-year deals until he became a free agent in 2011, but this offseason they chose to give him a five-year contract worth $30-plus million with a club option for another season worth as much as $15 million.
``It's calming on one hand, but it also adds pressure,'' he said. ``It's great to know I'll be here for a while, but I have to validate the confidence the franchise has in me.''
The Tigers probably don't have to worry about Granderson becoming a fat cat.
He is among the first to arrive in the clubhouse and usually one of the last to leave, drawing rave reviews from Leyland, who says he's the perfect example of working smart.
Granderson is intelligent out of uniform, too, with degrees in business management and business marketing from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He earned them a year after Detroit drafted him in the third round of the June 2002 draft.
``When Curtis came back after his first season in the minors, I said, `It's too bad your season ended so late that you can't go to school this fall.' He said, `I am enrolled. I contacted all the instructors, setting it up so I can take classes now and in the spring,''' UIC coach Mike Dee recalled. ``How many guys would keep school as a priority after getting all that money?
``That's just who he is.''
Clearly, Granderson is a reflection of his parents.
His father, Curtis Sr., retired last year after teaching in the Chicago Public Schools. His mother, Mary, plans to retire this year from the district following 25 years as an educator.
Instead of kicking back and relaxing, though, Mary Granderson earned a second master's degree a year before retiring.
``You can never have too much education,'' she explained while sitting with her husband at sun-splashed Joker Marchant Stadium, waiting to see her son after a recent exhibition game. ``My parents taught me that an education is the only thing no one can take and I'm proud to know Curtis learned that, too.
``Even when he's not a professional athlete, he'll still be a college graduate.''
About a dozen times a year, Granderson shares that message with students in Detroit and Chicago, talking about his successes and an embarrassing moment.
He fell on slick turf and an out turned into a double during the 2006 World Series in St. Louis.
``I tell kids that story, letting them know that whatever happens, you have to walk it off because tomorrow is a new day,'' Granderson said. ``My slip and fall happened with 180 countries witnessing it.''
Granderson might end up going to many of those countries as a baseball ambassador.
Major League Baseball has been sending players such as Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa on international trips in recent years to promote and teach the game at academies. The past two offseasons, Granderson went to Europe and Africa.
The next tour isn't finalized, but MLB's director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa said Granderson would be welcome to be the featured player in Germany, the Czech Republic and France next offseason.
``Curtis is a first-class ambassador and one of the warmest people you could meet,'' said Clive Russell, who accompanied Granderson to Italy, Holland and South Africa. ``It is amazing how he instantly connects with people of all ages and background.
``People just gravitate to him.''
And, Granderson doesn't seem to push anybody back.
He has a hard time saying no when fans approach him, asking for a picture when he's at a restaurant with family and friends or his signature during spring training.
``He signs autographs out there every single day when he leaves until he signs everybody's autograph and you just don't find that,'' Leyland said. ``He probably overtaxes himself trying to please everybody and probably does a little too much.
``But it's hard to tell a guy not to do that stuff.''
Granderson's best friend, though, says he isn't perfect.
``He can't dance. That's how he is human,'' said Joe Lacy, who has been close with Granderson since the fourth grade and was his guest in Europe and Africa. ``He has no rhythm so if we're at a club, I tell him to sit down.
``But the girls still love him and his personality, just like they did long before he had a $30 million contract.''