All-Star grad gives back to UIC, community, baseball

Curtis Granderson speaks at ribbon cutting

“UIC has played an integral role in shaping who I am as an athlete and as a person,” says New York Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson. Photo: Steve Woltmann

When Curtis Granderson graduated from UIC in 2003, he didn’t say goodbye.

The Major League Baseball All-Star is an alumnus who gives back — not only to the university, but to his hometown Chicago.

Granderson, an outfielder for the New York Mets, has made many trips back to campus, but his biggest visit may have been April 17, when he threw out the first pitch at the grand opening of Curtis Granderson Stadium.

The stadium is the new home of Flames baseball, as well as Chicago youth sports organizations in Chicago. Granderson’s gift of $5 million to help build the stadium is the largest known one-time donation from a professional athlete to his or her alma mater, according to Sports Illustrated.

“Without UIC, I wouldn’t be standing here today,” Granderson said at the opening celebration.

“UIC has played an integral role in shaping who I am as an athlete and as a person, so I’m confident that the facility will have a tremendous impact on our community. I’ve learned many important lessons growing up in Chicago, both in the classroom and on the baseball field, so it’s a privilege to now help provide those same opportunities.”

The stadium could reshape how universities in urban locations use their athletic facilities to contribute to the community, said Jim Schmidt, UIC athletic director.

“Curtis Granderson’s contribution and commitment to this ballpark being a community asset has resulted in partnerships with Major League Baseball, Chicago Public Schools and organizations for inner-city youth throughout Chicago,” he said. “This ballpark is about more than Flames baseball and more than UIC. It’s an opportunity to impact the future of our city’s youth.”

Curtis Granderson Stadium and Chicago skyline

Curtis Granderson Stadium is the new home of Flames Baseball as well as Chicago youth organizations. It’s an opportunity to impact the future of our city’s youth,” says Jim Schmidt, UIC athletic director. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Granderson’s nonprofit organization, Grand Kids Foundation, promotes youth development through education, physical fitness and nutrition. He is an international ambassador of Major League Baseball, national ambassador for the White House’s anti-obesity campaign, Let’s Move!, and spokesperson for the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Drink Up water initiative.

“I have been coaching for 30-plus years and I have dealt with a lot of kids and Curtis is the most unique young man that I have ever been around,” said UIC baseball coach Mike Dee. “He is unbelievably committed to kids. I could not be more proud of him; he is a first-class individual.”

Dee coached Granderson, a UIC Hall-of-Famer, from 2000 to 2002. “We are fortunate to have an alumnus like Curtis who is so much more than an athlete — he’s a role model who is committed to serving youth in his hometown and beyond,” he said.

Granderson continued to work on his UIC degree in business after the Detroit Tigers drafted him in June 2002.

In a 2010 national marketing campaign, “Behind Every Famous Person is a Fabulous Teacher,” Granderson thanked one of his professors, David Koehler, a former faculty member in managerial studies, for pushing him to graduate.

Transitioning from student to MLB player was “pretty easy,” Granderson said in a 2010 UIC News interview.

“I have to thank UIC for that,” he said. “UIC is one of the most diverse schools in the country. When I started playing professional baseball, I was comfortable being with different players from all over the world.”

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