Granderson quickly dashing to the top
Center fielder setting things in motion for talented Tigers team
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson clearly can hit. He can run. He can certainly cover center field, and as opposing baserunners realized last year, he can throw pretty well now, too.
But for everything Granderson does, there's one thing that goes unnoticed: He can organize.
On a given day, at a given time, he has a pretty good idea where he's going to be. When the Tigers are home, he can dash from his place to a community function to lunch to the ballpark like he's going from first to home on an extra-base hit without looking back. He has time allotted in his schedule to do his twice-weekly blog on ESPN.com. If he has free time at the ballpark between batting practice and his extra work, he'll use some of it to sign autographs.
On a recent day at Spring Training this past week, he had just received a schedule for what he has slated to do in the community over the entire season.
"That lays out all the way from April 1 through the end of the season," he said. "It has [Grand Kids] Foundation stuff, school visits, on-field stuff. But it's a good, full schedule already. So I'm looking at it and I'm going, 'Wow.'"
When you're filling as many shoes as he does sometimes, you have to.
On a team that has become cluttered with star players over the past few years, one can make a compelling argument that Granderson is becoming the face of the Detroit Tigers. From the batting order to box scores to the stats page to the community, he's around the top of a lot of lists. He's a catalyst off the field like he is on it.
He's coming off a season in which he reached a statistical feat last met by Willie Mays, and he won the team's nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award for community work. A year later, the Tigers don't want Granderson to worry about history repeating itself. They want him to focus on simply being himself.
"I just want him to do what he does," manager Jim Leyland said. "I don't want him to feel like he has to be the guy. We've got a pretty thorough lineup. Just do what you can do. Don't try to carry the team, blah, blah, blah. Just do what you can do and that'll be fine."
In many ways, this is who he is.
His emergence last year wasn't a total shock, given his work ethic and athleticism, but it was nonetheless sudden. A year ago at this point, Granderson was a promising hitter, trying to shed the title of the American League's strikeout champion while working on coming out of his shell as a baserunner.
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As coach Andy Van Slyke put it at one point last summer, Granderson is someone who tries so hard to please everybody that he was afraid of risking a mistake. His progression as a player last year picked up when he became more willing to take a chance, whether it was on the basepaths or at the plate.
The result was just the third season of at least 20 homers, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases by a Major League player. Willie Mays was the last; Jimmy Rollins became the next soon after Granderson. He also clinched a .300 average on the season's final day.
All of this came in just his second full Major League season. By contrast, Mays was in six seasons in when he hit his quadruple twenties in 1957, and he played for 16 more years without coming close again.
Given Granderson's drive, the last thing Leyland or the Tigers want him to do is try to repeat it.
"You've got to go into the season knowing you've got a heckuva player on your hands who's only going to get better," Leyland said. "But I think it would be unfair to ask him to duplicate last season."
Fortunately for them, Granderson already knows that.
"Last year, it wasn't even a plan or a goal to get to that point. It just happened," Granderson said. "People are stepping it up even above and beyond that, saying, 'Can you do 30-30?' Again, it's not on my agenda to do. ... If I get close to it again, great. If I don't, hopefully everything else ends up being positive."
His goals for this season are pretty similar to what he had in mind a year ago. It still comes down to runs scored, the stat that Gary Sheffield mentioned to him last spring as the focus for a leadoff hitter. He ended up with 122, third in the AL.
"The only stat that I'll put a number on," Granderson said. "That should be at 100. Everything else would be ratios."
Stolen-base success, strikeouts-to-walks and on-base percentage are the ratios he has in mind. The common thread is that they revolve around putting him in position for the guys behind him.
For all the talent in Detroit's lineup, Granderson's success puts the offense in motion. It puts Placido Polanco in a position to move him over or drive him in. It forces opponents to either challenge Sheffield or put him on base for RBI machine Magglio Ordonez. Then come Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen. And so on, and so on.
"He's one of our big keys, because he makes us go," Leyland said. "There's no question about that."
To watch him work on the bases is like watching him in life -- organized, calculating and efficient. He was thrown out just once in 27 stolen-base attempts. He wasn't thrown out at all trying to advance, and his mere four outs on the basepaths all came while being doubled off. His baserunning rating in the Bill James Handbook put him in the same neighborhood as Carl Crawford, Orlando Cabrera and Juan Pierre, and within range of Ichiro Suzuki.
Considering he put up base hits nearly 40 percent of the time he put the ball in play, the Tigers have plenty of reason to encourage him to cut down on strikeouts. But they also realize the balance he strikes between aggressiveness and efficiency. After all, nearly a quarter of his strikeouts in 2006 were on called third strikes, which dropped to 16 percent last year.
He's one guy Leyland doesn't have to push. Leyland's big move with Granderson this spring was to rest him early on so that he didn't tire himself out. Granderson was afraid at first that he had done something wrong.
"I think he's such a proud guy that he's a perfectionist," Leyland said. "And, you know, perfectionists in this game fail seven times out of 10 [at the plate]. I just think that he's such a perfectionist that I think he's probably his toughest critic. I mean, you can manage forever and not get many guys like that."
"He pays attention. He works. He believes in the instructors. ... He works at it, never any questioning. Like I said, you can manage a long time and not find players like that."
The only thing Leyland pushes Granderson on is to not feel he has to do too much. Between community work and autographs, he worries about Granderson tiring himself out, and Granderson has tried to make sure he doesn't overdo it.
What looks like overtaxing, though, is nothing out of the ordinary to him.
"That's me," Granderson admitted. "I love being busy, no matter what. I love having this, followed by this, followed by that, because it keeps my mind focused on other things other than baseball."
He has no incredible feats on his schedule just yet. He's simply trying to help this team put some dates on their calendar for October.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.