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Center fielder of attention

by Bob Nightengale, USA Today

(Copyright (c) 2006 USA Today. All Rights Reserved.)

DETROIT -- Detroit Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson, walking downtown for lunch, can't take more than three full strides before his cellphone starts vibrating again.

He shuts it off, cringing at the volume of messages that'll be waiting. He woke up Sunday morning and had 32 voice-mail messages and 60 text messages. There's no telling how many would have been left if his mailbox wasn't full.

Friends and relatives, from Chicago's South Side to Detroit, were shouting out all night long. They congratulated him on the Tigers' first American League pennant since 1984. They toasted drinks in his honor. And, oh, by the way, "You got any spare World Series tickets or extra hotel rooms?"

"They were calling me up 'til 5 in the morning, but I was already asleep," Granderson says. "A buddy of mine I knew since fifth grade just started screaming. I couldn't even tell what he was saying.

"Everybody wants to come to the World Series, but I only get one free ticket. And I'm buying three for my parents and half-sister. I tell 'em, 'Hey, you got to hit Ticketmaster, eBay, whatever you can do, but I can't help you.'"

It's absolutely mind-boggling, Granderson tells himself. A couple of winters ago, he was working as a host at a restaurant in Tinley Park, Ill. Now, he might get more money from his World Series share than his annual $335,000 salary.

"The restaurant just called the other day," Granderson, 25, says, "wondering if I want my job back."

Just a few weeks ago, Granderson could walk along the streets of Greektown in Detroit, and no one would even acknowledge him.

These days, with the World Series three days away, Granderson has strangers walking up offering to buy glasses of wine during dinner, just to shake his hand.

He was stopped the other day, and a woman said: "You know something? You look a lot like Curtis Granderson. Do you get that a lot?"

If the Tigers win the World Series, Granderson may be the most recognizable outfielder in these parts since Kirk Gibson.

It was Granderson's two-out, go-ahead, run-scoring triple in Game2 of the Division Series against the New York Yankees that forever changed the Tigers' fate. ("You never heard Yankee Stadium so quiet. He shut up all of New York," says his father, Curtis Granderson Sr.) The Tigers won the game 4-3 and haven't lost since, reeling off a franchise-record seven consecutive postseason victories.

Next stop: Saturday at Comerica Park, where the Tigers will host Game1 of the World Series for the first time since 1945.

"It's still hard for me to believe," Granderson says. "It just seemed like yesterday when people were saying we didn't belong in the playoffs. We were supposed to be the JV playing the varsity when we played the Yankees.

"Look at us now. Trust me, we're not done yet."

Student of economics

Granderson, driving through a rainstorm Tuesday to the Tigers' workout, is teased by his teammates about his car. He doesn't drive a Mercedes-Benz or a Cadillac Escalade. Just a plain 4-year-old blue Chevy TrailBlazer. There are Tigers who have bigger TVs in their cars than he has in his apartment.

"Not too many guys in here have 24-inch TVs from Wal-Mart," Granderson says.

Granderson, who graduated on time from the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a double major in business management and business marketing, doesn't believe in frivolities. He chose cloth seats instead of leather to save $1,000, even using his dad's GMC discount to buy it. The only leather he owns is the $150 jacket he bought, dipping into his $469,000 signing bonus.

He lives in a two-bedroom apartment in the Detroit suburb of Troy that looks more like a college dormitory.

He shares the place with teammate Joel Zumaya, spending $1,400 a month, which includes rental furniture. There are no plants. Not even a poster. There is a 2006 Tigers schedule magnet on the refrigerator.

Hey, what do you expect for a guy who still lives at home with his folks in Lynwood, Ill., a suburb of Chicago?

He has one of the upstairs bedrooms in the five-bedroom home, complete with a Ken Griffey Jr. poster on the wall.

Loving son

Granderson may be a hero in Detroit -- hitting .313 this postseason with three homers, seven RBI, seven runs and an AL playoff-high .719 slugging percentage -- but back home he is the proud son of school teachers Curtis and Mary Granderson.

Curtis Sr. is a physical education teacher, kindergarten through eighth grade, and Mary, who is in a master's program in science education, teaches science at the high school.

"It's cool being there, and I've got no curfew," Granderson says, "but I really want to buy a place in downtown Chicago.

"Every time I bring it up, they always talk about all of the negatives. They talk about how expensive the mortgage will be. The fact I'll be gone most of the time. Wonder who's going to take care of things?

"I think they realize it's about time for me to leave, but they like me being there. Hey, to be honest, I love being there, too."

Why not? Free rent. A home-theater system in the basement where as many as 20 friends and relatives will congregate on college football Saturdays and NFL Sundays. And the best red chili in town.

Granderson's favorite NFL team is the Buffalo Bills (really). He is a big fan of the Atlanta Braves (he has baseball cards of David Justice to prove it). And he roots for the University of Kansas ("I'd love to go to one of their games) each basketball season.

"I really can't explain why I'm a fan of those teams," says Granderson, who grabbed roast beef sandwiches Monday night from Arby's, munched on two boxes of sugar cookies (2-for-1 special) and headed to a nearby sports bar for the Bears-Arizona Cardinals game.

"I loved the Bills the year they lost that first Super Bowl. The Braves when they lost the '91 World Series. And KU when they got beat by Kentucky. It seems like every team that ends up losing big that first year, I love."

He's a huge fan of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, too, requesting an autograph this year through teammate Marcus Thames because he was too shy to ask. Yet, just one day, he'd love to have the nerve to ask Jeter what it was like to date singer Mariah Carey.

"Now, if I could ever meet her," he says.

Granderson realizes it's a long shot, but hey, a fella can dream. Besides, who in their right mind back in April ever envisioned the Tigers to be playing in late October?

"It's been a crazy ride," Granderson says. "You're seeing a lot of strange things. Did you know my dad got so excited after we beat Oakland that he started running around the bases? I'm not kidding. ("Nobody else was crazy enough to do it," Granderson Sr. says.)

"To me, this whole thing is like Christmas. You know it's coming, but you don't know what you're going to get.

"I can't wait to find out."


BIO BOX
Meet Curtis Granderson
Born: March 16, 1981, in Blue Island, Ill.
Bats/throws: Left/right.
Drafted: By Tigers in third round of 2002 draft.
School: University of Illinois at Chicago.

Highlights:
*Named Tigers' minor league player of the year in 2004.
*Named Tigers' top prospect by Baseball America in 2004.
*Made major league debut on Sept. 13, 2004.
*Hit .240 in 25 at-bats in 2004.
*Hit .272 in 162 at-bats with eight home runs last season.
*Hit .260 in 596 at-bats with 19 home runs this season.
*Has hit three home runs this postseason, tying him for the team record with Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell, both of whom did it in 1984.

 

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