Role Models & Heroes: Curtis Granderson (2018)

By October 2, 2018 February 13th, 2019 Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models
The following essay on role model Curtis Granderson was written by Jackson Mossey, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.
     A hero is someone who helps you directly; a role model is someone you look up to and or want to be like. Curtis Granderson of the New York Mets is a hero to the many kids he helps, but to me he is a role model. He is a hero to kids in minority communities because they rarely see African American stars in baseball. As one of the best African American players, he is in a position to inspire them to pursue the sport. I consider him a role model and look up to him because not only is he an amazing baseball player, he is also a generous supporter of increasing community access to baseball.
     Curtis Granderson was born on March 16, 1981 and raised in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.  Both of his parents were schoolteachers so the family was not wealthy.  Curtis was a gifted student and was talented at basketball and baseball. He originally wanted to be in the NBA. As a high school student at Thornton Fractional South High School in Chicago, Granderson was scouted and recruited by many schools.  Out of all the schools that wanted him he chose the University of Illinois at Chicago which he graduated from in 2002.  In college Granderson was on the baseball and basketball teams.    His experience helped him realize how good he was at baseball.  After college he got drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 2002 MLB draft and made his MLB debut in 2004.
     Granderson is a three time All Star, and won both the Silver Slugger Award and a Roberto Clemente Award. He was twice named Marvin Miller’s Man of the Year. The Roberto Clemente Award recognizes the best player on and off the field. Off the field doing charity work, and on the field with great attitude and sportsmanship. The Marvin Miller’s Man of the Year Award is always given to a player whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.
     Granderson established his “Grand Kids” Foundation in 2007 when he was on the Detroit Tigers, prior to becoming an All Star. The mission of Grand Kids is to aid children in need through positive youth development in the areas of education, physical fitness and nutrition.
     He is very hands on with Grand Kids, showing up in person at food drives and indoor baseball clinics.    Although coaches and players have questioned the time he spends with these efforts, he remains dedicated, both during the season and offseason, in New York, Chicago and other cities. His motivation to start the foundation is a desire to provide opportunity and access to baseball for the kids in his hometown. He helped fund a stadium for the University of Illinois baseball team, contributing 5 million dollars.
     Along with a few other Mets players, he runs another organization called Grand Giving, an effort directed at food insecurity among low income people. It supplies 780 thousand meals a year.  One of the biggest giveaways was before Thanksgiving in NYC.
     Curtis Granderson was recently the subject of an article published by the New York Times.  In it, Granderson further reveals the motivation for starting Grand Kids. He believes that baseball is perceived as a “white sport.”  When he played baseball as a kid he found himself to be the only black kid on his team.  As he got older after college, in the minor leagues, he started playing with people who he mistakenly assumed were African American. When he heard them speaking Spanish he was surprised to learn that they were from Latino countries where baseball is very popular.  “I got to the pros, and I was like: ‘Whoa! This is the most black people I’ve ever seen.’ And then they started speaking Spanish.”
     He also became aware of the crowds in the stadiums. “In many cities” he explained, “fewer and fewer black fans go to the ballparks…We play this game, me and other black players, counting the black people in the stands who weren’t working at the game,” Granderson says. “‘I see one! No, he’s Latino.’ You’re panning, panning, and sometimes it would take us seven innings to count 10.”  This issue motivated him to somehow help black kids see baseball as a “cool” sport.  “Kids don’t think baseball is cool,” he said. “There’s a lot of references to it being a white kid’s sport.”
     This impression is further proved by lack of African Americans in baseball management. All the CEOs of MLB teams are white, all managers but one are white, and every MLB team is at least 50% white. From the beginning, likely due to racism and segregation, MLB players have been primarily white. The fan base is also primarily white, with black families and their children having less exposure to professional baseball.
     Granderson’s observations are backed up by what I learned about the history of segregation in baseball. From 1920 to 1947 black players joined the Negro Leagues. The color barrier was broken on April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson made his major league debut. The proportion of black players in the MLB hit its peak of 20% in the 1980’s. The number is again in decline, currently at 6%. It was difficult to find clear reasons for this, but it seems that other sports, such as basketball, have gained the interest of many young African Americans and therefore fewer kids are growing up knowing how to play baseball. There may also be economic reasons that limit access, with baseball equipment perhaps being more expensive than what is needed for basketball.
     I chose Curtis Granderson as my role model because he is the best baseball player on and off the field. I have seen him play many times and he is one of my favorites.  I also met him once and got his autograph. He is an outstanding player and an outstanding person.
     It is now a few years since I chose him as my role model and Granderson is no longer a Mets player, but I still regard him as one of the greatest players of all time.  He remains important to me, for playing my favorite sport, on New York City’s best team and for his work in the community. Curtis Granderson displays a great many values, including hard work, charity, and caring for others. I feel that he and I share the value of determination. Granderson is very determined to help people in need and to expose more kids to baseball.  I am very determined to do two things: baseball and drumming.  For baseball I researched and tried out for new teams every spring and summer through middle school. I did this on my own and traveled independently all over the city. For music, I am determined to play as much as possible. I now attend a music high school and I spend summers at Maine Jazz Camp. I am inspired to reach my goals by watching and learning about Curtis Granderson’s determination, both on and off the field.