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Visiting Tigers, Granderson is welcome

Visiting Tigers, Granderson is welcome

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson walked by the home clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium and ran into plenty of old teammates. He also ran into at least one old friend he never had the chance to play with.

Granderson and Johnny Damon don't run into each other often, but they're still mutual friends. So when Damon was done talking with his former Yankees teammates for a minute and saw Granderson, he snuck up from behind and caught the outfielder by surprise, saying hello.

Just because there might be comparisons drawn between the two in 2010, rightly or not, doesn't mean they'll be unfriendly competitors.

"The one thing that's always stood out from the times I've met him is he's always come up to me," Granderson said of Damon. "I didn't realize that he knew me, but every time he saw me, he made sure. Even today, I was walking in and my eyes were on the field, and he grabbed me and said, 'What's going on?' That threw me off, because I wasn't expecting him to be right there. So I made sure I went back to shake his hand, too. Definitely a great guy."

Neither Granderson nor Damon has been known to hold grudges, so anyone expecting any sort of rivalry between players and old clubs in a second-week Spring Training game had to be disappointed. But that wasn't the reason the Tigers nearly set a Joker Marchant Stadium attendance record on Wednesday. The fans always seem to pack the place when the Yankees come to town, regardless of who's on the trip.

Wednesday, however, was Granderson's first trip back here since the December trade that sent him from the Tigers to the Bronx Bombers. The mere announcement of his name in the starting lineup drew a large cheer before the game started. Once he stepped to the plate for the first pitch from Tigers starter and ex-teammate Armando Galarraga, Granderson received possibly the biggest applause of the day.

Whether they rooted for or against the Yankees, many Tigers fans like and admire Granderson, even if they don't necessarily like his new uniform.

"'Looks like you've got an AAU uniform on,'" Granderson recalled among the ribbing he took from fans. "'It just doesn't look right. It's the wrong color blue.' All in fun, though."

Granderson didn't necessarily make it fun for his old team once the game started. He singled in both of his at-bats against Galarraga, including a broken-bat liner into short center field to drive in a run in the second inning. Galarraga allowed only one hit from the other eight hitters in the Yankees' lineup. Next time up, Granderson accounted for first of back-to-back two-out walks issued by Tigers top Draft pick Jacob Turner, who loaded the bases without allowing a hit before striking out Mark Teixeira to escape.

Many Tigers players were looking for Granderson on Wednesday morning, almost as soon as the Yankees' bus arrived. Once he came out for batting practice, Granderson had an onslaught of players shaking his hand, including Damon.

Granderson's old manager, Jim Leyland, saw him behind the batting cage on the field and gave him a warm welcome.

"Marcus [Thames, another ex-Tiger who's now a Yankee] and Grandy are two of the finest gentlemen I've ever managed," Leyland said. "I'm going to miss both of them, and I wish them nothing but the best. They don't come any better than those two guys. Class all the way. It's great to see them, and I wish them nothing but the best."

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Many Yankees players and coaches might say the same of Damon, after they get past the sight of Damon growing facial hair that he chalks up to simply forgetting to shave for a few days. Though Damon didn't play in the game due to a bout of turf toe on his left big toe, he was still around pregame for one big reunion.

The two swapped teams in separate moves two months apart, so they had no idea they'd be linked like this. When Granderson became a Yankee, he had no idea he would eventually be in line to succeed Damon in left field. Nor could he have any idea that Damon, a free agent on the market, would eventually land in Detroit once the Tigers decided their new-look top of the order needed an offensive addition.

Damon will bat second in the Tigers' order behind rookie Austin Jackson, the center-field prospect Detroit acquired in the Granderson trade. He'll be the first everyday leadoff man the Tigers have had besides Granderson since 2005.

Though the signing brought up questions -- among fans -- of why the Tigers would trade Granderson if they could find the money to spend on Damon, it didn't raise the question to Granderson.

"I hadn't thought about it," Granderson said. "I knew he was a free agent and he was looking to get a job somewhere. Any team at that position is going to look to try to upgrade, and I felt that getting Johnny Damon to any team is going to be an added help. He gets on base, he steals bases, he hits home runs and he hits for average. So any team would want to get him. The fact that it happened to be Detroit didn't play any role in my head. I was just waiting to see where he was going to sign."

Granderson still follows the Tigers quite a bit, he admits, and he still keeps in touch with some of his former teammates. This wasn't a first meeting for him and Dontrelle Willis, among others.

"On my iPhone, one of my bookmarks is still the Tigers' Web site," Granderson said. "There's no reason for me to delete it. I always want to see what's going on with some of the guys because of the relationship I've had with them. And getting a chance to come here to see how everyone's feeling.

"I went to dinner with Dontrelle one night, and [Ryan] Raburn just invited me out to hang out before they take off for the season. I'm just trying to get a feel for what they're doing. I always keep an eye out."

Granderson will be able to follow the Tigers a handful more times in Spring Training thanks to more Tigers-Yankees matchups. Once they break camp, the two will meet in mid-May, when the Yankees come to Comerica Park. Granderson expects it'll be a bigger series for him than the Yankees' series against Boston.

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

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
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