Yankee star gives back to University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago youth

Yankee star gives back to University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago youth

Yankee star and Chicago native Curtis Granderson gives back to his college-UIC (UIC Athletics)
It seems like we are always inundated with negative stories in sports and when there is a positive story it gets minimized. What New York Yankee Curtis Granderson is doing for his alma mater, the University of Illinois Chicago, should be front page news and lead sportscasts.

Last summer I wrote about the Chicago native and discovered what a thoughtful, giving young man he is. Now he is giving more. Last week when the Flames retired Curtis’ jersey, he revealed a plan to renovate the school’s baseball field and facilities.

Granderson will use millions of his own dollars to update many facets of the stadium and fields, including the press box, stands, pitching mound and more. It is not just the school he will be aiding. It will be the community as a whole that will benefit from this generous gift. This two year plan to upgrade the facilities will include allowing various youth teams in the city the opportunity to use the stadium. Chicago Public Schools, the Park District, the RBI Reviving Baseball in Inner cities program (RBI), Urban Youth Academy, the White Sox and Cubs youth baseball teams can play there free of charge.

Flames head baseball coach Mike Dee says they will have almost 3,000 boys and girls involved with games. Long term, there will be a lot to plan, especially accommodating hundreds a games, including CPS games that will start this spring. Each baseball and softball team will have an opportunity to schedule a game. Not only will these leagues be able to play games and practices, the college will also have coaching and officiating clinics for the various organizations. Additionally, Granderson believes the safety of the neighborhood will help insulate the children, especially since a police station is next to the field.

Helping the youth is the underlying reason for this generosity. It may help revitalize a sport that has suffered a decline in popularity. Baseball is not the most popular sport for young athletes, particularly inner city youth. The lack of African-Americans in baseball is alarming. In fact, there is a profound documentary in the works, Bases Empty, that is delving into the genesis of the problem and the future of the game.

Besides giving back and taking care of his school, Granderson will help a community and a sport that has a proud tradition that needs to be re-kindled.

This project also says plenty about the ties Granderson has with the University of Illinois-Chicago and Flames Head Baseball Coach Mike Dee. That relationship began when Dee recruited Granderson at 17 years old, through his three years playing for the Flames and when he was drafted in his junior year by the Detroit Tigers. Now playing for the Yankees, Dee will go unannounced to see his famous centerfielder when Curtis comes to Chicago to play at US Cellular Field. When Mike talks to his Curtis it is rarely about baseball.

“He (Curtis) has a real deep sense of social responsibility,” Dee said. “His mom and dad did a phenomenal job with him growing up, he is exceptionally humble and a strong sense of wanting giving back to the community.”

The college experience is something that both Dee and Granderson want to entice the young players who will play or practice at Curtis Granderson Stadium.

It occurred to Dee that both he and Curtis never “wondered if they were going to college, but where,” but that is not the case with most of the youth they are trying to reach. They hope as kids spend time in the college environment it will open their eyes to the possibilities of continuing their education. Many will not play the sport long term, however, it could be for some a way to get a scholarship.

There could be more Curtis Grandersons — the man, not necessarily the player — stepping on this new baseball field. At least that is a goal worth reaching for in my book.

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