The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

May 14, 2006

Making the bigs

Granderson first player from Mankato Northwoods franchise in Major League Baseball

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s not so hot, and the grass is fake, but when Curtis Granderson walked up to the Metrodome plate as the Detroit Tigers’ leadoff hitter and center fielder last weekend, it looked familiar.

The open stance is the same, the hands held high, wobbling the bat to keep the wrists loose. The smooth, left-handed swing brings back memories, the baseball still jumps off of his bat.

Can it really be five years since Granderson was slapping baseballs around Franklin Rogers Park, helping the Mankato Mashers win games in the Northwoods League?

“That was the time I realized I could play with the big Division I players,” Granderson said. “I saw I could succeed, and that allowed me to get drafted. From that point on, I progressed with the program and did what I was supposed to do.”

In 2004, Granderson became the first player from Mankato’s Northwoods League franchise to reach the major leagues, and his improvement has been as steady as his play was in that summer of 2001. He batted .328 in 44 games, with eight doubles, two triples and a home run. He drove in 17 runs and scored 28, using his speed to steal 15 bases. He made no errors that season, a harbinger of professional career. He’s yet to make an error in 83 major league games.

After playing in Mankato, Granderson returned to the University of Illinois-Chicago, using his experience and confidence to put together a strong junior season, catching the eye of Detroit Tigers’ scouts. He had two strong seasons at Class A Oneida and Lakeland, then hit .303 at Class AA Erie in 2004.

Late in that season, he was called up to the Tigers, making his major league debut on Sept. 13 and playing in nine games. He didn’t make the major league team in spring training last season, spending most of the summer with Class AAA Toledo, where he batted .290. Again, he was called up during the season, this time playing in 47 games in two stints, batting .255 with four home runs and 10 RBIs.

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