An interview with Curtis Granderson

Opening day. - Elsa

Grandy on his plate approach, Mets v. Yankees, Juan Lagares, the Citi Field outfield, and Old Man Strength.

Hats everywhere. I was told five thousand. Spanking new caps are startlingly bright, and I wished I had my dirty Cyclones giveaway hat to shade the peepers.

Curtis Granderson entered Lids, the Midtown hattery, looking very fit and handsome. Unlike many of his peers, he is human-sized. He shook hands with the New Era events people, donned an admittedly lovely hat, and looked pleased to meet every marketing assistant. Waiting for my time slot, I got to talking with the assistant manager of the Yankees Clubhouse Store, a hard-core Met fan.

Here are some things about Curtis Granderson the man. He grew up in a working-class Chicago suburb with two school teachers for parents. The Granderson family produced a pro ballplayer and an English professor, Curtis's sister Monica. Grandy's charity, the Grand Kids Foundation, runs a baseball clinic in his hometown of Lynwood and otherwise assists kids with education, physical fitness, and nutrition. Curtis has worked with Michelle Obama on "Let’s Move!" As an ambassador for MLB, he’s traveled to three continents spreading the good word.

Granderson has a sterling reputation as a one of the game’s great dudes, and on close inspection, I’m persuaded these rumors are founded.

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Pack Bringley: So we have the south suburbs of Chicago in common. I grew up in Homewood.

Curtis Granderson: Nice! I was right east of you! Did you go to HF?

PB: I did. Where did you go?

CG: TF South. How old are you?

PB: I’m 30.

CG: All right, so my cousin, she went to HF. Jennifer Moyer?

PB: Definitely know that name.

CG: Jennifer Moyer, Alonzo Moyer, Janis Moyer, Tina Moyer, that whole family.

PB: Absolutely!

CG: Small world.

PB: Well, down to business. What difference do you see so far between the Yankees organization and the Mets organization: in tone, in philosophy, in expectations?

CG: Right now, the biggest thing is the age difference. The Yankees have a very veteran team over there, experienced team. You look over here at the Mets, it’s very much like the team I came up with in Detroit in 2006… a youth team, an energy-driven team, a lot of guys who are coming up together from the minors, along with a few veterans to create a nice little mix. Both of them have their pros, both of them have their cons, but I’ve been excited to be a part of both of them.

PB: Are there day-to-day differences, or is it mostly the same routine?

CG: It’s pretty much the same. Loose, relaxed, fun.

PB: But what was it like representing the forces of evil?

CG: [Laughs.] It was interesting to travel everywhere and everybody knows, hey, this is the New York Yankees and you love them or hate them. But you still get a similar glimpse of that with the Mets because it’s New York. It’s still the largest media market. The one thing I keep hearing from people is "Welcome in from the dark side," things like that. A lot of people’s thought about the Yankees is either so positive or so negative. With the Mets it seems to be more neutral, for whatever reason. But a lot of people are so proud to say they’re Mets fans.

PB: One thing the Mets aren’t giving you is your short porch in right. Are you adjusting your swing for that?

CG: No, none of that. What a lot of people forget is that we play half of our games away from our stadium. When I go to those stadiums I’m not adjusting my swing for the stadium. A pitcher obviously might change some things when he’s up there – adjust to wind elements, things like that. But my job is to get down and be consistent, to be able to repeat the swing, get a pitch I can drive, and drive it. Some stadiums it’s going to get out the ballpark, some stadiums it’s not, so I get a chance to run the bases a little bit.

PB: In terms of approach, are you, you know, sitting fastball? Sitting breaking ball? Looking at one half of the plate or the other? Or is it a reactive thing?

CG: Yeah, more reactive. Being ready to go, but also understanding what the opposition’s trying to do. If you’ve got a guy who loves throwing fastballs there’s no point in me looking off speed. Vice versa: If a guy loves to throw off speed stuff I’m not going to sit on fastballs. So you try to adjust as the game goes on, talk to the other left-hand hitters in the lineup, see what they’ve got going on.

PB: This is something that fans probably don’t know as well as they should… As a left-handed hitter you haven’t hit lefties as well as you’ve hit righties. From your perspective standing at the plate, what’s going on there, what’s the difference?

CG: The big thing is that you don’t have a lot of lefties that you face all the time. You don’t have a lot of lefties able to throw batting practice; you don’t get repetition like you do against righties. From little league up until now, most guys are right-handed throwers. And all the position players except maybe first base and some of the outfielders, they all throw right handed. Also the angles are just a little bit off, in terms of pitches come into you. Typically with righties they’re moving away. That’s why some righty hitters have issues with righty throwers. It’s a mixture of all those different things. You try to go ahead and get yourself ready to go, use the curveball machine, try to get lefties to throw batting practice as much as you can. When you have a left-handed pitcher on your team that’s throwing maybe stand in on his bullpens session and see some of his at-bats.

PB: How about the outfield in Citi Field. Does it have some kinks to it?

CG: Nothing too crazy. You know, everyone talked about right center, the little nooks and crannies of it, but nothing really out of the ordinary. It’s only been a game so I’ll have to see about that. The sun is right over me so I don’t have to worry about that all season long. Every stadium has its elements and has its pros and cons. There’s a lot of room out there but we have a very athletic outfield. A bunch of guys that could play center field, a lot of guys who have played center field. We have the ability to cover a lot of ground.

PB: As a veteran outfielder you have Juan Lagares right next you. What’s the mentoring relationship like as a veteran?

CG: It’s cool to watch. The big thing is to just sit back and see him and adjust where you need to. He’s very athletic and can go get ‘em with the best of them. He’s got very good arm strength. The scouting report, he’s been living up to that ever since I’ve seen him. Right now I just kind of sit back and watch him, let him be in control… Not think, "Hey, I’m the one out there telling him what to do." If he needs to move me, I move. If he needs to push me, I push away from him. All those little things to help him get his rhythm.

PB: Coming to the team, did you know any of the Mets? I don’t know if the Yankees and Mets party in the same circles.

CG: It’s crazy. I live one block away from where three of the Mets live. Never saw them in four years.

PB: In the city?

CG: In the city. Probably because our schedules just don’t overlap. I got a chance to play with David Wright a couple of times. Once in the World Baseball Classic, once in the All-Star Game. I’ve met different people that know some of the guys, but never got to meet them until spring training.

PB: All right, a New Era hats question. Before you were a pro ballplayer, what was more important: team loyalty or a fresh style?

CG: For me, I’m a big team loyalty guy. I’m a big Kansas Jayhawk fan, unfortunately they got eliminated from the Tournament…

PB: Do you have a connection there?

CG: No, I just wound up liking them early on, and I’ve been a fan since I was about 10 years old. So every year I’d be wearing Kansas hats, the pull over, the jersey, top to bottom that was my thing. Outside of that… umm, I wasn’t really in the coolest hat unless I had buddies to come with me and get the two-for-one. If you weren’t going to buy one with me, I wasn’t getting one. I had some go-to hats.

PB: Now you’re getting free hats.

CG: That’s it.

PB: Speaking of college, it must have been interesting playing baseball in an urban school, University of Illinois Chicago. It’s a different experience than most guys have. And going four years, too.

CG: Exactly. And a lot of people at my school don’t even realize we have a baseball team there. People would be like, "You play baseball?... Where do you guys play?" "The field is right there!" "Oh, that’s what that is?"

PB: And now the field is Curtis Granderson Field, right? You donated the money to renovate it? [Note: $5 million]

CG: Yeah, it’s going to open April 17th, so I’m very excited about that. It’s not only going to benefit the University but also going to help out a lot of kids in the community. It’s secure. They’re going have a chance to be in a college setting. All those great things. I’m excited for it… put the school on the map. I’ll mention to people I went to University of Illinois Chicago and everyone goes, "Oh, in Champaign. The fighting Illini." And I go "No, in Chicago.." "Oh!"

PB: I hear your dad played a lot of 16 inch softball…

CG: Still does!

PB: Yeah? People might not know that’s Chicago’s "National Past time." Can you bring that here?

CG: It’s tough! We’re out there with no gloves. That’s a rough sport. Ever hear of Old Man Strength? You gotta have it there. I go out there and there are guys that are 30 years older than me and they smash the ball better than I do. His team just got inducted into the [16 inch softball] Hall of Fame last year. He’s getting inducted this year. He’s incredibly excited. They’re called the Hot City Rollers and they’ve been going out for I think 32 years. He’s a player-coach right now. I haven’t had a chance to see them a lot recently. He’s 63 years and he’s out there doing his thing.

PB: You’ll have to make the MLB Hall of Fame, match your old man.

CG: There we go.

PB: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks a lot.

CG: Thank you.

With that, I moved away from the Great Wall of Headgear, and the next blogger stepped up to a handshake and a smile.

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