Baseball: Spreading the gospel of baseball

By Steve Deane

New Zealanders may not have heard of him, but Curtis Granderson is a superstar. Photo / Paul Estcourt
New Zealanders may not have heard of him, but Curtis Granderson is a superstar. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Tiger Woods, David Beckham, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Sachin Tendulkar.

They've all visited these shores, near enough in their prime, and all deserve a place on anybody's list of the most famous sports stars to come here.

Tack on Curtis Granderson to that high powered quintet. Make it a sextet, why don't you?

Because you've never heard of him, perhaps? Shame on you.

Although not a household name in New Zealand, the New York Yankee is a global superstar, no bones about it.

The Yankees, with their crossed over NY symbol and their pinstriped pyjamas, are the most recognisable sporting brand on the planet. Granderson, the starting centre fielder with an unrivalled skill set, is a star of the present and future.

When the likes of Derek Jeter and A-Rod drift off into retirement, Granderson will likely step into their super-dooper star shoes.

One list Granderson already tops is Major League Baseball's best bloke. His huge grin and easy charm have been lapped up by the New Zealand media throughout a week-long promotional stay here. He has popped up on television news, on radio and even a cricket show. More importantly, to him anyway, he's been working with a bunch of Auckland kids, sharing his skills at series of coaching clinics.

"They just wanted me to come here and show that, 'hey I'm a major league baseball player, but I'm not much different to you guys'," he says.

With spring training, 162 regular season games and playoffs, baseball has a short off-season.

When he's not penning self-help guides for teenagers, running educational charities, raising funds for inner-city baseball programmes and helping out Barack Obama's missus with an anti-obesity campaign, Granderson likes to spread the baseball gospel at unconquered outposts such as China, South Africa and, yes, New Zealand.

"I try to stay busy, and be around things that are positive," he says. "I get a chance to go somewhere in the world I probably wouldn't have otherwise. New Zealand was a place on my list I wanted to see.

"I learned about it in school, but never thought I'd get a chance to go there. Major League Baseball has allowed me an opportunity not only to come here, but to promote baseball. If you want to call that work, then I'd work any day of the year."

Granderson's message that any kid who tries hard enough can succeed like him is perhaps a touch optimistic. To be like Granderson, those kids will need to run like a tropical cyclone, throw like a cannon and possess unrivalled hand-eye co-ordination.

One of just seven baseballers in history to have hit 20 home runs, 20 triples, 20 doubles and steal 20 bases in a season, Granderson can do it all.

He grew up in Chicago and was drafted and broke through to the big leagues with Detroit. At the end of 2009, the biggest of the big boys came calling and he was traded to the Yankees.

True to form, the major change he has noticed is that being a Yankee has helped open more doors for his good works. That, and the fact that he can get whatever he wants to eat at any hour in New York.

A curious habit of referring to himself as a collective aside ("we are back at 100 per cent healthy and ready to go for 2011"), Granderson seems untouched by fame.

But being a Yankee isn't all hero worship and signing baseball cards. The massive financial advantages the organisation enjoys over its rivals, and the success has created resentments. For every blue-capped Yankee fan there is an army of Yankee haters.

While it's hard to imagine anyone even disliking Granderson, being a good bloke hardly makes him exempt from the opprobrium.

When he threw signed balls into the crowd at a recent Breakers basketball game in Auckland, a friend of this writer who follows the Boston Red Sox texted: "I could have caught one of those but I just said f*** off Yankee twat instead."

He's been a Yankee for just one season, but Granderson has heard it all already. "We are the most hated team in all of sports," he laughs. "It is fun to go into a stadium when everybody wants to see you lose. I'll take that all day. To be loved to be hated means you are well respected and everybody knows who you are."

They sure do. Even in New Zealand, now.

- NZ Herald

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