By Stephanie R. Jones
Curtis Granderson made it to “the show,” playing Major League Baseball. Yet the New York Mets outfielder told Jackson State University baseball players and others that his biggest accomplishment was getting a college education.
“The number one thing I’m proud of is getting my college degree,” said Granderson, a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Granderson spoke Thursday at the panel discussion Fences: African Americans in Major League Baseball at the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute @ COFO, where the crowd spilled out of the auditorium.
He was joined by Jackson poet C. Liegh McInnis. One point of the conversation was the declining numbers of African Americans in the Major League since the 1980s. Currently, African Americans account for less than eight percent of big leaguers. Granderson, 35, started his career in Detroit before being traded to the New York Yankees and then joining the Mets.
He encouraged players to have fun and enjoy the game but added, “we play this game to be successful at it … hard work is something they can’t take away from you.” Playing in New York, which he called the media market of the world, Granderson said maintaining one’s public image is challenging. He related an event from November: “I’m there trying to promote ending hunger in our neighborhoods and the first question I get is ‘what do you think of Trump?’ “I have to stop, think and be able to respond. There’s an emotional attachment to every question. You think about how it [answer] sounds to your mom, dad, teammates,” Granderson said.
So his response to the question: “Change is happening and we’ve got to move forward.” Granderson said it is great to have diverseity on sports teams. “Sports bring people together no matter black or white, young or old,” he said.
JSU’s team has a diverse make-up, but Granderson said JSU has more African-American players than most teams, even at historically black universities. The JSU baseball players welcomed the opportunity to hear from Granderson. “It is a definitely a privilege to be in the presence of Curtis Granderson,” said Jashanno Sweeting, a left-handed pitcher and Bahamas native. “Growing up he was one of my favorite players.” Sweeting said Granderson was inspiring and motivational. “I would recommend this (presentation) to each and every one who aspires to play Major League baseball or any other game. It’s something you can use throughout the durations of your life to better yourself,” he said.
Jesse Anderson, also a JSU pitcher, said he appreciated Granderson coming to support the team. “I think he’s a good example for anyone, especially in the African-American community, to look up to,” said Anderson, who is white.
McInnis talked of the need to know the history of blacks in the league, which started with Jackie Robinson in 1947. “If you don’t know black history, you don’t know the whole narrative,” McInnis said. Granderson said a lot of people came to the event for different reasons but he was glad to help his sister, Monica Granderson, an English professor at JSU.
He also held a “Grandkids” camp Saturday for children ages 6 to 16, a camp he holds across the country. The event was part of a joint Black History Month project between the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute @ COFO, The Institute for Social Justice and Race Relations, Gallery1, the College of Liberal Arts, and the departments of English and Modern Foreign Languages, and History and Philosophy.
Stephanie R. Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 454-0372.