Granderson sharing passion for baseball on tour of Asia


Staff Writer

Curtis Granderson doesn’t have to be here. He’s got money; he’s got fame; he’s been an MLB All-Star three times; and, well, he’s a New York Yankee.

So he would have been forgiven for staying home, relaxing, and nursing the bumps and bruises one accrues over the course of a 162-game season (plus New York’s nine playoff games).

Except that Granderson is sitting on the edge of his seat, hands clasped neatly in his lap and dressed in a stylish suit, as he waits for his ride to Waseda University — where he’ll participate in a panel discussion — in the lobby of a Tokyo hotel.

Taking time out of his offseason, Granderson is in Japan as an MLB International Ambassador in order to promote and grow the game of baseball.

“It’s great getting a chance to represent the game I’ve grown up playing and been making a career out of,” Granderson said Thursday. “Obviously in places like Japan, where the game has a very rich tradition, the main focus is the promotion of it, not the growing of it.

“In other parts of the world it’s the growing, like throughout Europe, South Africa, China and New Zealand. You can see these are countries where it’s getting bigger.”

Granderson spent three days holding clinics and making appearances in Korea before arriving in Japan, so he’s been too busy to be overly concerned with rumors that the Yankees have been entertaining the thought of trading him.

“Rumors are rumors,” Granderson said. “Until it actually happens, we can’t deal with it until that point comes. You’ll mentally exhaust yourself worrying about the what ifs and the possibilities.”

ESPN’s Buster Olney raised the possibility last week that the Yankees may attempt to move Granderson.

The New York Daily News, in a story appearing on its website Tuesday, cited sources saying the team had been shopping Granderson around since November in a bid to slash payroll. The 31-year-old will be in the final year of his contract and slated to make $15 million in 2013.

“You can only control the things you can,” he said. “Ever since my first full season up in 2006, I’ve always been on the trading block. There were rumors of me going to Atlanta back then; to the Cubs after that; to the Yankees, where I finally did end up. I’m sure this won’t be the last time that I would be rumored to be in trades.”

Granderson’s focus at the moment is his work with the MLB. He’s scheduled to spend eight days in Japan making appearances and is excited about his first visit to the country.

“First thing is to just enjoy the culture,” Granderson said. “Obviously I’m going to use the tour for myself to enjoy and experience (Japan).

“Also when I’m talking to kids, there’s a lot that I’m picking up. How they go about their training and their regimen to get themselves prepared, their mental states, their physical states, and comparing my body to theirs. I let them know that I’m not that much taller than them, I’m not much bigger than them, and they can get a chance to look up and say, ‘Hey, he’s doing it. He’s not much bigger than me. I can do it.’ “

Granderson was scheduled to speak during the ceremony for the re-opening of Ishinomaki Municipal Baseball Stadium on Sunday, which was damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

He’ll also hold a baseball clinic in the area then later conduct another for the Girls Professional Baseball League in Kyoto.

He’ll also visit Okinawa, making stops at Konan High School — which won the National High School Invitational Tournament in the spring of 2010 and the National High School Baseball Championship that summer to become the first school to win both since Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yokohama High School in 1998 — and Okinawa Shogakuin High School.

Granderson will pass on some of his baseball knowledge, but above all wants the experience to be fun.

“Everything I’ll talk about and do will always have a fun element to it,” he said. “We’re going to be competitive, we’re going to laugh, we’re going to joke around out there and enjoy that part of it. Because that’s what the game is, it’s fun.”

Something that might also be of interest as he tours Japan is the experience of playing with Ichiro Suzuki.

The pair became teammates July 23, when Ichiro was traded to the Yankees from the Seattle Mariners — oddly enough while the Yankees were in Seattle to face the Mariners — offering Granderson a glimpse into the mind of the enigmatic Japanese star.

“The first thing I noticed was how detailed his pattern and routine was,” Granderson said. “Once he gets to the stadium, he starts this, then he moves on to that. Then he eats, and then we go out to the field to practice. Then he goes back to this, and he gets ready to play.

“The one thing that I probably didn’t expect was how loose and relaxed and funny he was. You never hear about that side, but it was amazing. He’s a funny guy.”

Granderson is no stranger to the MLB International Ambassador system, having first served in 2006, when he visited England, Italy, and the Netherlands. He’s also toured South Africa and was one of the first MLB players to help promote the game in China.

“I didn’t know this title of ambassador was going to get put on me,” Granderson says. “I was enjoying going to other parts of the world and promoting the game. I jumped at the opportunity. From 2006 to now, it was just, ‘Let me know where you want me to go.’ “

He’s done the same on the homefront through his Grand Kids Foundation, which was founded in 2007 with the purpose of “improving the educational experience for youth nationwide as well as helping to re-establish baseball opportunities for inner city youths.”

The fact he’s gained so much through baseball makes it easy for Granderson to want to give back.

“It’s opened a bunch of doors for me,” he said of his life in baseball. “It’s provided financial support for me to get my college degree and become one of 38 players in Major League Baseball with a degree. That in turn has given me the opportunity to promote education and baseball. To show the two can go hand-in-hand, as opposed to the myth that you have to focus on one.

“In certain parts of the world, education is No. 1, which it should be, but you can balance the two. I was an honor student both in high school and in college (Illinois-Chicago) and also was able to excel in baseball. That’s given me the opportunity to meet great friends all over the world, travel all over the world, and just learn a lot about myself. Like the fact I can have things in my sights, actually accomplish them and then set the bar higher and higher.”

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After watching Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki, Kyuji Fujikawa determined he’s ready for the major leagues.

“When I was still a student, I saw Nomo made it to the United States, and that was a big factor for me,” Fujikawa said through a translator Friday after finalizing a $9.5 million, two-year contract with the Chicago Cubs.

“Also, Matsuzaka, who is the same age as I am, struggled a little bit, but his challenge really gave me the motivation to come over here, as well as Ichiro challenge to the major leagues, that motivated me to come over.”

The 32-year-old right-hander had 220 saves in 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers. He played for Japan at the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.