Granderson spreads baseball gospel
Tigers star travels overseas to put sport back in Olympics
DETROIT -- Curtis Granderson has built an impressive resume as a baseball ambassador over the last few years. His next trip is going to take baseball diplomacy to a different playing field.
With visits to three different continents over the last three offseasons, including a trip to China last month, the Tigers' center fielder has taken a central role in Major League Baseball's efforts to spread the game internationally. Armed with those experiences, he'll try to help make the case that baseball's worldwide appeal warrants a place back in the Olympics. He'll be part of an international delegation that will present baseball's case to the International Olympic Committee next week in Lausanne, Switzerland.
For a young man who has welcomed each trip as an adventure, this will be a new journey for him. Instead of putting on spikes and hitting the diamond to bring the game to young players in clinics and appearances, Granderson's work will be in suits and conference rooms. But those experiences from his tours of Europe, Africa and China give him a unique perspective on why baseball deserves to be back in the Summer Games.
"I know a lot of people say that, you know, it's an American game," Granderson said. "But the different places I've gone to -- Europe, China, parts of South Africa -- people are surprised to find out there are different nations that have baseball programs already."
Granderson has seen many of them first-hand, enough to compare the level of the sport he saw in China to the development he witnessed in Africa. At each stop, he has seen a common ground -- young players with a passion to learn the game, but needing further development in national programs and specific instruction to take the next step.
His journeys began two years ago with an itch to travel the world and learn different cultures. He was interested in joining the squad of Major League stars heading to the Far East for the 2006 Japan Series, but Detroit's run to the World Series ruled that out. As a consolation, representatives from MLB's ambassador program approached him about taking a tour of Europe to speak at clinics and make public appearances.
Since then, Granderson has become a fixture in the program. As a result, he's becoming a more recognizable face on baseball's world stage.
"It's interesting," he said, "because I didn't set out to do this, but it kind of happened. People say I'm an ambassador. I don't necessarily feel like I am, but anything I can do to help the game, I'd definitely like to be a part of that."
His latest trip to China included a visit to the Shanghai Eagles of the China Baseball Association, a meeting with members of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, several visits with members of the MLB Play Ball! program for middle-school-aged children and a workout with one of China's top college programs.
|"People say I'm an ambassador. I don't necessarily feel like I am, but anything I can do to help the game, I'd definitely like to be a part of that."|
|-- Curtis Granderson|
"Everything is practice, practice, practice," he said, "whether it's education or on the field. On the other hand, considering a lot of it is run by the government, they don't play a lot of games."
In his free time, Granderson and his parents were able to become tourists, visiting Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall. But the image that stood out for him was venturing to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center, one of the tallest buildings in the world, and realizing the enormity of the city.
It was soon after he returned home near the end of October that he was approached about being part of the delegation to meet with the IOC. He wasn't sure yet how involved he would be in the presentation, but he'll represent Major League players in the international delegation.
It's a unique role for Granderson, who grew up taking particular interest in the Olympics every four years, then two. Of all the baseball cards he collected as a kid, he said, the one that sticks out in his memory was a 1984 Olympics edition for former slugger Mark McGwire, who was part of the first Olympic baseball tournament back when it was a demonstration sport.
|"It would be an honor to get a chance to do it."|
|-- Granderson on playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic|
"I'd love to get a chance to do that," Granderson said. "It would be an honor to get a chance to do it."
He'd also love to take part in the Olympics. Yet when it comes to that point, he realizes the obstacles that MLB faces. He doesn't pretend to have the answer to whether baseball can include Major League players without interrupting the big league schedule.
"The crazy thing about it," Granderson said, "is everybdy says, 'Look at the NBA. Everybody sends their players [to the Olympics].' But they're not in their season. I know hockey will send their guys [to the Winter Games], but people forget they don't play six days a week like baseball.
"It's difficult. That's probably one of the most difficult challenges that MLB is going to be faced with in trying to convince the IOC that we can send our best guys out there. I'm not sure how you do that, but it's definitely something that needs to be addressed, both with MLB and the Players Association."
Fortunately for Granderson, it's not something that has to be decided right away. The IOC will not vote on adding any sports until next year. Next week's presentation, International Baseball Federation Harvey Schiller told MLB.com, will be a "show and tell" to present their case.
That presentation will include Granderson, whose travels have not only changed his views on baseball, but the world.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.