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Our Hunger For Legit Role Models Should be Sated by Granderson

Not only did Granderson raise money for the near-hungry, he also contributed $5 million out of pocket to a baseball complex in his name at alma mater University of Illinois-Chicago.

New York Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson
New York Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson

Sep 13, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson (14) signs an autograph prior to a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The juxtaposition of personalities and impact on the hoi polloi was simply striking.

On Aug. 5, 2013, Alex Rodriguez verbally dodged and feinted amid a packed press conference at the Conference and Learning Center at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. He did everything but formally plead the Fifth Amendment.

Later A-Rod played capitol cloakroom politician in the Yankees clubhouse, lobbying with a team broadcaster, dispensing nuggets to a writer, trying to build his case against his PEDs suspension person by person. The messages had no effect. The boos directed at him were loud, guttural and heartfelt in the game to follow, and the catcalls would follow him around the game the rest of the season. He was Public Enemy No. 1 in baseball.

But while A-Rod tried to work the media, Curtis Granderson was down the corridor, near the right-field corner, dispensing positive energy in stark contrast. Just back from a series of injuries, outfielder Granderson hosted dozens of Little Leaguers from his hometown of Lynwood, Ill. and neighboring Lansing — south suburbs of Chicago — in a picnic area. He told the eager kids of the life of a ballplayer and how he came to be as a 32-year-old veteran. Some 72 hours later, Granderson gave up his off-day in Chicago to attend the kids’ All-Star Game in Lansing.

Fast-forward to a period two weeks before Thanksgiving. Here’s Rodriguez storming out of his appeals hearing on the suspension, huffing and puffing in denial, again losing the public-relations battle. Fortunately, the confluence of football at full bloom, hockey and basketball pushed the episode to low-priority play in most media outlets’ space and time budgets.

Also pushed down in the publicity pecking order was Granderson’s “Grand Kids” foundation benefit for the Chicago Food Depository at a downtown bar. Although the two levels of the establishment were wall-to-wall attendees within 90 minutes of the event’s start, there were hardly any cameras or microphones. No matter – the tickets sold bought needed calories for three-squares-a-day-deficient thousands in a crisis never as bad since the Great Depression.

And the precision timing of the benefit was appreciated by Granderson, as only a player whose task is the most difficult in sports – hitting a round baseball with a round bat square. The cash inflow to the food pantry came at the very moment the supplemental food-stamp program, enacted as the Great Recession spread worldwide misery in 2009, was ending, cutting the amount of food needy millions of U.S. citizens could purchase each month.

So who has contributed more to society in 2013 – Rodriguez or Granderson. The answer is obvious. It’s disgusting in a way, as Rodriguez has been in the financial pink a lot longer than Granderson. But for A-Rod, it’s all about me. For Granderson, it’s all about us.

If something seems too good to be true, it usually is, goes the ancient axiom. But that does not apply to Granderson, at this writing mulling his free-agent direction after turning down the Yankees’ $14.1 million qualifying offer.

Not only did Granderson raise money for the near-hungry, he also contributed $5 million out of pocket to a baseball complex in his name at alma mater University of Illinois-Chicago. Other than petty politicking and juvenile behavior, what has A-Rod similarly done to help others?

Timing was even more crucial for Granderson’s benefit. Food pantries experience the greatest need around the holiday season.

“I just found out about the (food stamp cut) in my trip to the Food Depository, where they introduced me to that,” said Granderson. “It’s a very unfortunate thing. We have to find other ways to go ahead and make sure people have food in their stomach, especially with Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner. What better way to go start off the holiday season by giving back to the community by giving food to people who otherwise wouldn’t have it.”

Prior to his awareness of the food-stamp issue, Granderson connected  the Food Depository benefit to his long support of boosting education, particularly in the inner city. Now the problem has spread to middle-class suburbs. In the wake of the recession, media reports have told of huge numbers of children needing subsidized lunches in suburban schools, and many of the same kids requiring breakfast at school, too. To Granderson, nourishment of the mind is connected to that of the body.

“It’s tied in with the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign with Michelle Obama,” Granderson said. “Healthier eating, being active, healthy initiatives. People might look at it and ask, how do food and education go hand in hand? If you look at the classroom, if you miss breakfast or lunch, and you’re an adult at a meeting and you don’t have food in your stomach, it’s hard to pay attention, hard to focus.

“It’s definitely an issue for all of us in the Chicago area — to go ahead and help tackle the one of six adults who are food-insecure in the Chicago area and the one-of-five kids who are food insecure.

Granderson’s baseball-complex support is astounding at a time the baseball powers are struggling to revive inner-city participation in the sport. His $5 million contribution is greater than that of the $3.5 million from UIC. He’s still trolling for additional contributions from Major League Baseball, the Players Association, and the Cubs and White Sox. The beautiful fields projected for the complex will be augmented by an indoor training facility, necessary in the truncated playing season of the Midwest.

“It will be a safe environment,” he said. “It’s on a college campus. It will have multiple fields for all age groups and an indoor facility. Anybody knows who lives in the Chicago area, once you get past the month of October, it’s very hard to continue (to work out). I had a whiffle ball from time to time, I had a couple of (indoor) batting practices, but I can definitely imagine if I had the opportunity to do it more frequently how much better my game would have been at such a young age.”

Interesting how A-Rod never experienced that down among the sheltering palms of the Miami area. He’s walked down a gilded path from Day One. Granderson had to hustle to get to this point.

This was a tale of two role models intersecting throughout 2013. Who’s story would you read? Who’s story would have a potentially personal impact on you?

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