Granderson appreciates sacrifices of others

Granderson appreciates sacrifices of others

Granderson appreciates sacrifices of others
TAMPA, Fla. -- When the inconveniences of life on the road inevitably catch up with Curtis Granderson -- say, a broken hotel air conditioner or a lengthy wait on a tarmac -- the Yankees outfielder knows it can't even compare to what those who came before him dealt with.

Granderson's perspective on his opportunity to play at the Major League level has been shaped by his knowledge of what playing conditions were like in the not-too-distant past, as he's learned avidly about the challenges of baseball's Negro Leagues.

As Black History Month concludes on Monday, Granderson offers respect for those predecessors from a different era, recognizing that his own life might be very different if not for the sacrifices and struggles of those athletes.

"There are a lot of things that we wouldn't be able to have, do and see if it weren't for those different individuals," Granderson said. "To speak about them and not forget them, that's pretty important."

In early 2009, Granderson was honored by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., offering him the opportunity to tour the facility at his own pace.

To this day, Granderson is still struck by the minuscule mock-up of what a cramped hotel room would have looked like for players in the 1940s, which Granderson compared to a modern walk-in closet. Those glimpses of the past linger.

"All the different things they had to go through, outside of the difficulty of playing the game of baseball, you can focus on how different the game is," Granderson said. "People forget that day in and day out, they received death threats.

"They didn't get the same type of privileges that their teammates or guys in other leagues got. To get a chance to see the rooms that they had to stay in, I think twice about complaining about little things. It all comes from knowing the history."

Granderson is trying to educate via social media. This month, his Facebook and Twitter feeds have engaged fans in an ongoing acknowledgment of Black History Month, offering a daily trivia question relating to the Negro Leagues.

For example, on Sunday, Granderson's Twitter paid homage to Detroit Stars slugger Norman "Turkey" Stearnes, who holds the Negro League home run record with 183. Granderson enjoys bringing these names back to the forefront, but on some level, he also finds it difficult to imagine actually being a part of that era.

"Today, it's such a small percentage of what it was like," Granderson said. "To see signs that say I have to go this way and white people go that way ... I don't know how it would have been.

"I'm so open and respectful to different diversities, but that comes from the changes that were made back then. That's the reason why we focus on Black History Month -- to be able to come into a room and look at a person and respect that person for who he is."

While Granderson looks at the game's past, he also wonders about its future. Major League Baseball has seen its African-American presence drop over the last several decades, and Granderson acknowledges that many young athletes seem to be looking elsewhere.

"It's a struggle, partly because there is more interest in other things," Granderson said. "I don't want to say there is a lack of interest in baseball, but I just think there are more things that kids have opportunities to surround themselves with."

Noting that baseball must compete not only with basketball, football and other sports but also with video games and the Internet, Granderson said that baseball is on the right track with programs like Beyond Baseball, of which he is a participant.

But Granderson would like to see the game expand its marketing of African-American stars to young fans, noting that the National Basketball Association and National Football League have made huge inroads in recent years.

"In 2009, when I made the All-Star team, Carl Crawford was the MVP, I scored the game-winning run and Prince Fielder won the Home Run Derby," Granderson said. "Those were great individual accomplishments, but do a lot of African-American kids know that? I doubt it. Whose fault is it? I don't know."

Those decisions may be out of Granderson's realm, but he is trying to assist. Granderson said that he has encouraged many young students to play baseball, pointing out its potential for college scholarships, and he has also made generous gestures to get kids on the field.

Since baseball can be more expensive to play than some other sports, Granderson turned down cash endorsements from Louisville Slugger and Nike, instead agreeing that those companies would provide equipment at cost for youth teams.

Through his Grand Kids Foundation, Granderson has already supplied baseball equipment to teams in his hometown of Lansing, Ill., as well as neighboring Lynwood, Ill., and Tampa, Fla. A donation is also in the works for New York City's Public Schools Athletic League, Granderson said.

"I wanted to shave off the cost for kids that say they want to play, but can't afford a glove, a bat or a ball," Granderson said. "If I can go out and help some kids continue to go out there and play baseball, it's a good thing."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.