Curtis Granderson with his mother, Mary, at a Curtis Granderson's Grand Kids event.
Photo source: grandkids.org
Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.
Can you provide us with some information about your background? Your education and career?
I came to UIC as an accounting major and later switched to a double major in business management and business marketing. I was also a student athlete with opportunities to play both baseball and basketball. In 2002, my junior year, I had a really great baseball season and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers. I signed a contract with them and became a professional baseball player. At the time, I thought I would play for maybe two or three years in the minor leagues and then be released. After that I figured I’d move on to do something in sports marketing, or maybe go back for my master’s degree. I’m glad to say I couldn’t have been more wrong! My career in Major League baseball lasted until my retirement this year on January 31 (Jackie Robinson’s birthday), playing for the Tigers as well as the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers, and the Miami Marlins. Having a career in professional baseball was more than playing the game—it allowed me an opportunity to travel all over the world, meet unique and wonderful people and have experiences I could have never imagined as that freshman just entering UIC.
Now that I am retired, I have had the opportunity to spend my first summer in Chicago since 2000 and, even with the current restrictions, I am enjoying myself. I am focusing my attention on projects that are important to me, like the Grand Kids Foundation, which I started in 2007, as well as the Chicago Baseball and Educational Academy, which provides baseball education and mentoring programs to Chicago youth who otherwise might not have access. I am also part of a newly formed organization called The Players Alliance. This is a group made up of more than 100 Black current and former professional baseball players seeking to move the needle forward for issues of social justice within the sport. I am excited for this opportunity to see where it takes us and the changes we can help make for a more inclusive and equitable future in our sport, and beyond.
Tell us about your UIC experience.
I didn’t know a lot about UIC coming in as a freshman. I made my choice to attend based on the fact that I had the opportunity to play both baseball and basketball. I remember being on my recruiting trip and noticing the coaches fully engaged in the practice—one was even in catcher’s gear! I thought to myself, “If the coaches are this involved in practice and helping with the development of the players, then this is where I want to be.” I can still remember moving into the student dorms on Halstead and Harrison, and how it all took off so quickly; making friends, attending classes. I was so excited to claim UIC as “my school” and really get to know it. It was a great experience all around, and I have remained connected to the campus. Throughout my career I have continued to train there in the off-season. Even when I had opportunities to go other places, I kept going back to UIC. It just felt like home field to me.
It is evident that “giving back” is important to you. You have established your own not-for-profit, the Grand Kids Foundation, and at UIC named the Curtis Granderson Stadium. Can you explain what compelled you to remain so connected to your alma mater, and what you hope your philanthropy accomplishes for the University of Illinois at Chicago?
I wouldn’t be where I am today and accomplished what I have without the support of others. I was able to take my collegiate baseball experience to the next level because of UIC. I want to give those same opportunities to others. My parents led by example and did the same with their alma maters. UIC supported my academic and athletic experiences and has continued to be a part of my work to provide opportunities to others. We bring Chicago area kids to the field in collaboration with the Grand Kids Foundation and continue to organize events and experiences on campus.
What advice can you share about how to make a lasting impact at the University of Illinois?
I realized the importance of finding your passion as well as discovering that making an impact on one person is a success that you can replicate. Our very first Grand Kids Foundation event in Detroit had about twenty people attend and raised $2,000. It was not nearly as successful as I had hoped for to start, but I knew it was still going to help. Plus, you have to start somewhere! We have grown above and beyond from that first event, across areas that I am passionate about like education, food insecurity, and providing kids the opportunity to play baseball and softball. It might be just one minute, or one conversation, but that can be the start of something big.
What is your favorite University of Illinois memory?
I’d say my favorite memory was probably staying in the dorms. Before that, the longest I had ever been away from home was a weekend, so it was my first real taste of independence. I had the same roommate from my freshman to my junior year, and we have remained friends. Staying there taught me to seek help when I needed it and to be responsible for myself. It helped me feel comfortable in any place in the world, and how to live in small spaces with limited amounts of “stuff,” which was helpful as a professional baseball player. I have had teammates from all over the world and have thought, “This looks just as diverse as my classes at UIC.” Also, to be able to learn all these lessons with the city of Chicago as the background. With its diversity and all it has to offer as a vibrant city, make the experience extra special. There is just something about Chicago. I enjoyed my time. I’d go back and do it all again if I could.
** If you would like to read more about the organizations Mr. Granderson mentioned please use the following links: