PHOTOS BY TATE NATIONS
At six-foot-one and 200 pounds, Curtis Granderson is not the biggest professional athlete out there, but the New York Mets outfielder has one of the biggest hearts in professional sports. He was the winner of the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award, named for the Pittsburgh Pirates legend and given annually to the major league baseball player whom fans and media feel best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team. Previous winners include Dale Murphy and John Smoltz.
Curtis’s Grand Kids Foundation is a nonprofit that purchases school supplies for needy students and provides baseball equipment and facilities for African-American kids in New York and Chicago, his hometown. His sister Monica lives in Madison, and helped arrange a pair of appearances in the Capital City before Curtis headed to south Florida for spring training with the New York Mets. He spoke at Jackson State University on February 9 and two days later put on a baseball camp for youngsters at New Beginnings Christian Life Center.
“I have a lot of family from Mississippi. Some – like my sister – still live in the Jackson area,” Curtis said. “She and I try to get me to Jackson every 2-3 years, and this year we were able to have enough time to plan a baseball camp. I’ve been doing camps all over the world, so to finally do one in Jackson was really cool. Even though I’ve been all over the world and have seen so many different types of kids, they all have one thing in common: they want to have fun. Baseball is a fun sport, even for those trying it the first time.”
“The camps I do are all about having drills which include learning but fun competitions. The kids were really into it, and after the drills we conclude with questions and answers and some comments. I always have the kids thank their coaches and their parents for helping them have a fun day. The kids can ask me anything, and I always try to incorporate the day and education into the answers. My parents were my biggest role models because I was around them most. I saw how they were with family and friends and see how similar I am to them today.”
“Grand Kids is germane to the community because it helps in revitalizing baseball programs,” said Monica, an instructor of English at Jackson State University for the past 17 years. “The percentage of African-Americans playing baseball is at an all-time low, so charities like these are very relevant today. I would say that 150 were at Jackson State, where he spoke about the continued struggle of African- Americans playing major league baseball, and 150 adults, children and media attended the baseball camp. The ages of the kids ranged from 4-14.”
Curtis, now 36 and beginning his 14th professional season, considers it an honor and a privilege to have won the Clemente award. “To be compared with a gentleman who not only was a great baseball player but a great individual is amazing,” Curtis said. “Meeting his family, you can see how they instilled in him and taught the importance of knowing that the community helps shape you to the individual you become. He unfortunately was taken away from us way too soon, but taken away while trying to help others, which again shows the type of person he was.”