Curtis Granderson retires; his connection to Detroit Tigers fans never wavered
The very first image I have of Curtis Granderson is one of a fresh rookie going through his pregame sprints before a September 2004 game against the White Sox.
In just his second career major league game, Granderson — playing in front of family and friends in his hometown of Chicago — was already showing his comfort in front of the camera.
Back then, with the Detroit Tigers heading toward a 90-loss season, one year removed from losing an American League-record 119 games, prospect debuts were all the rage.
Less than a year later, Justin Verlander made his debut. The next season, one of the most important teams in Tigers history began a magical run in 2006, which planted the seeds for the most prosperous stretch in franchise history.
Granderson, who turns 39 in March, announced his retirement Friday after an outstanding 16-year career. He stood the test of time as one of the most recognizable faces from that era.
He was a great player and is a great guy. He could hit, and his long, lanky body and big strides made him a perfect center fielder at Comerica Park. When he left the Tigers after the 2009 season, he tapped into his power stroke.
Granderson could fix cameras, too.
Flashback to last season:Curtis Granderson returns with Marlins in May 2019
After the 2006 season, a friend and I scored admittance to a Detroit sports awards ceremony at Cobo Hall, with names like Mike Furrey and Kevin Jones of the Lions, former Piston Rick Mahorn, and Tigers Carlos Guillen and Granderson in attendance.
Walking around the lobby snapping pictures, I realized the camera’s focus was off. Everyone was coming out blurry, including a shot of Granderson and my friend.
He took the camera, fidgeted with a few buttons and the next thing you know, the camera was fixed.
Consider it the special touch, which was obvious in how he connected with Tigers fans and other fan bases in his six other stops around baseball. Granderson, the team’s best homegrown hitting product of the 2000s — he was drafted out of Illinois-Chicago in the third round in 2002 — made himself the consistent friendly face of those teams.
Other Tigers would eventually dwarf him in status, with Verlander climbing the ladder and Miguel Cabrera coming aboard in 2008, but neither could connect with Detroiters the way Granderson could.
You remember where you were with some of Granderson’s moments: in stolen seats for his walk-off against the Reds in 2006; along the first base line in a standing-room only section when he robbed Willy Mo Pena of that home run in left-center field in 2007; sitting in a basement at college when he secured one of Verlander’s shutouts with an incredible leaping catch against Grady Sizemore and the hated Indians in 2009.
But for as much as we’ll remember Granderson for those moments, it was the man behind them that made him so lovable.
At a time in which baseball has been dominated by the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, putting the biggest black eye on the game since the PED scandal of the early 2000s, the sport surely could use another player like Granderson. A player you could trust, a player with likable traits both on and off the field.
For as many teams as Granderson played for — bouncing around in his later years as a coveted postseason piece on teams such as the Dodgers and Brewers, breaking out in earnest with the Yankees and Mets before that — he will go into the proverbial Hall of Fame of Very Good Baseball Players with a Tigers cap on.
And for all of the images he gave us, the one I’ll remember the most was a TV interview with Jim Rome heading into the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Granderson played for the United States team that year. Dressed in his Team USA gear, he finished the interview by saying: “I have Team USA on now, Jim, but you know I’m always a Detroit Tiger at heart.”
And Tigers fans will be forever grateful he is.