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Yanks' Granderson ambassador for MLB
New Zealand is one of 12 countries that recently was added to the qualifying round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Ryan Flynn, the American-born chief executive officer of Baseball New Zealand, says that Granderson’s visit to the country last January helped trigger the nation’s inclusion.
“I believe, as do many others here, that without Curtis coming to New Zealand . . . we may have not gotten that all-important invite,” Flynn says. “So his visit was a ‘game changer’ in itself, and one that we’ll always look back on as a key turning point in our program’s international ascent.”
If Granderson, 30, was merely the leading ambassador for Major League Baseball internationally — and he is, having also visited China, Switzerland, England, Italy, the Netherlands and South Africa — then he would be doing more than almost every other player to promote his sport.
But Granderson is a domestic dynamo, too, running the education-based “Grand Kids” foundation, donating equipment to inner-city baseball and softball programs, even joining first lady Michelle Obama as the official MLB spokesperson for the White House’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign.
And, oh yes, as Granderson returns home to the Chicago area to face the Cubs this weekend (Saturday, MLB on Fox, 4:10 p.m. ET), he is enjoying his best season yet, tying teammate Mark Teixeira and the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista for the major league lead with 21 home runs.
For Granderson, the boundaries are expanding, both on and off the field. As a rising star playing in the nation’s largest market for the world’s most famous sports franchise, there is no telling how powerful his impact might be.
“It does give you the possibility to make it bigger,” Granderson says. “You’ve got a larger fan base. You have other teams that have established some things that you might be able to piggyback off of.
“I’m not sure exactly how big I would love to see it get to. But it is amazing to watch guys like Derek Jeter have their events and see how much money they’re able to raise on a given night. Keep in mind that it has been established and running for a decent time — and the name that he has — but the potential is there.
“If you’re able to stay here, show the community you’re doing some great things and people see how you’re giving back, the potential is enormous.”
Granderson’s foundation, which he began when he was with the Tigers, raises funds for educational field trips, art and science initiatives and the purchase of foreign-language software.
Both of his parents taught in Chicago public schools. Granderson, rare among major leaguers, earned a four-year college degree, graduating from Illinois-Chicago with a double major in business management and business marketing.
His intellect was evident in November 2008, when Granderson traveled to Lausanne, Switzerland, with Paul Archey, baseball’s senior vice president of international business operations, and Harvey Schiller, then-president of the International Baseball Federation, to appeal for baseball’s reinstatement into the Olympics.
“We wanted him to speak in front of the IOC program committee,” Archey recalls. “He sat in on briefing meetings, asked questions, wanted to know what our strategy was, wanted to contribute. He came prepared.”
To those who ask how Granderson makes time for all of his off-field pursuits, he is quick to respond that he is single and that his foundation is “kind of like my little kid.”
Archey says Granderson is a perfect international ambassador for the sport. He loves to travel, loves to promote baseball, loves doing clinics for young people.
Consider his trip to New Zealand.
Men’s fast-pitch softball is popular in that nation, Flynn says; American GIs brought the sport to the country during World War II. Baseball has been of secondary interest, and Flynn — after joining Baseball New Zealand in 2009 — told his board of directors that they needed to bring a well-known major leaguer to the country to raise the profile of the sport.
Flynn knew of Granderson’s international work. A friend at MLB International confirmed that Granderson indeed would be the perfect choice. So, Flynn found an email address for Granderson on the player’s website, then wrote him a lengthy note explaining how a visit from him could help transform baseball in New Zealand.
One thing led to another, and off Granderson went.
“We asked for him to stay here for a week and a half, and he agreed,” Flynn recalls. “He simply rolled up his sleeves, and asked where he could help.
“He did countless television, radio and print interviews. He ran clinics across Auckland for every age group. He even took swings against one of the top fast-pitch men’s softball pitchers in the world. He was game for anything and everything, as long as it helped baseball take that next step.
“We constantly tweaked the schedule. We’d throw another journalist in front of him, ask him to train with our nation’s best 16-and-under ballplayers for an extra two hours, visit one of our sponsors on the way back to his hotel. I honestly do not think he said ‘no’ to one of our requests the entire nine days.”
No wonder commissioner Bud Selig once told Granderson in a letter thanking him for his international work, “There are so many fine young men playing MLB today, but I can think of no one who is better suited to represent our national pastime than you.”
Granderson, you see, gets it in every way.
For all of his work off the field, he recognizes that baseball comes first. Not just playing hard. Not just playing well. Winning.
“You’ve got to do that no matter what,” Granderson says. “That’s the one thing I’ve told people. No matter how good you are or the message that you’re trying to send, it’s hard for you to get out there if you’re not winning.
“You see it in other sports. The reason Drew Brees is on commercials right now is because he’s a Super Bowl MVP. It doesn’t matter how well he talks or what he’s doing — he’s a Super Bowl MVP.
“No one knew how funny Peyton Manning was until he won a Super Bowl. You’ve got to win. And he was able to do that early and often in his career. That allowed him the opportunity to continue to grow not only his name, but his brand and his foundation.”
Well, Granderson is well on his way.
Heck, he already is the most popular player in New Zealand.
“Now that Curtis has met nearly every single one of our baseball players, all of the kids have chosen him on their fantasy baseball teams,” Flynn says. “I swear, you can hear a collective national cheer every time he hits another home run. New Zealand will always feel as if he is one of ours!”