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Yankees' Granderson shines on and off the field

Centerfielder Curtis Granderson begins his first season with

Centerfielder Curtis Granderson begins his first season with the Yankees after an offseason trade. (Feb. 26, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

TAMPA, Fla. - About a month ago, a group of reporters approached Curtis Granderson at his clubhouse locker after a game.

Granderson had started his first game of spring training and the media wanted his reaction to the feel of the pinstripes, whether he preferred centerfield or leftfield, hitting lefties and more Day 1-with-the-Yankees stuff.

"Sure, guys," Granderson said as he split the gathering and started walking away. "Let me just do this."

In most cases, that means one of the following in a professional clubhouse or locker room: I need to shower . . . let me eat first and I'll talk after . . . I need to lift . . . not now, later.

Granderson took a piece of gum out of his mouth, tossed it in the trash and returned to his locker.

"OK, now I'm good," he said. "Didn't want to talk with that in. Go ahead."

Granderson's agent, Matt Brown, laughed when told the story. "He's just a very unique, special person," Brown said recently.

The Yankees acquired Granderson, 29, in the offseason from Detroit to get younger and more athletic in the outfield.

They got that, but they also received a player clearly cut from a different mold, one who Tigers manager Jim Leyland has said several times since the trade is "everything that's good about baseball."

Baseball has agreed.

He was MLB's representative at the White House in February - he also visited the Bush White House in 2007 - as part of Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign. He represented the sport as an ambassador on a trip to Europe after the 2006 season, to South Africa after 2007 and to China after 2008. He received the 2009 Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award (voted on by players) for his work on and off the field.

Granderson's publicist, John Fuller, said that when he first met the outfielder several years ago to get an idea of what he was looking for, he expected the common answer - a higher profile, more endorsements, etc.

"Curtis' first answer was, 'I want to work with schools in Detroit,' and he asked if I could get that done," Fuller said last week. "That was a unique answer. I thought that was pretty neat."

And it got done. Granderson dived into working with the city's schools, establishing the Grand Kids Foundation, which improves opportunities for inner-city kids. He was the Tigers' Roberto Clemente Award nominee in 2007 and 2009 and received a 2009 Jefferson Award for Public Service from All Stars Helping Kids. Last year Granderson wrote a children's book, "All You Can Be," which encourages kids to pursue their dreams, and donated a copy to each public elementary school library in Michigan.

Said Yankees director of media relations and publicity Jason Zillo: "You heard a lot of good things about him going in, but talk about making a good first impression. He's pretty much done that across the board."

Zillo, in fact, pulled Granderson aside after his first day in camp, one in which Granderson accepted request after request from the media, whether in small groups or solo. The whole thing lasted nearly two hours.

"I told him it's OK to say no. Don't be afraid to use me or my staff," Zillo said. "I told him this is a marathon, not a sprint. I can't have you say on Opening Day, 'Wow, I'm whupped.' "

The only trouble is that saying "yes'' is Granderson's default answer, agent Brown said, despite his client's New Year's resolution.

Which was?

"To say 'no' more in general," Granderson said with a smile. "I'm working on it."

He disclosed this resolution, of course, during yet another interview to which he had said "yes.''

"The thing is," Brown said, "is he just really likes people. The guy can't be rude."

Or become particularly angry.

Granderson finds it as difficult to conjure up the last time he was upset as he does to say no.

The best he could do was to say he gets "frustrated" - but not angry - with people who chronically complain.

"If you complain, 'Oh, I'm fat, I'm tired, I hate my job,' then change it," he said. "I always looked at it as if, if you can complain about it, then you can fix it. And that's the only thing that really frustrates me in general. And again, it's more frustrating than anger."

So much for that.

"If somebody were to crash into my car right now, I've got insurance," Granderson said. "If my house burns to the ground, I've got insurance or I can go live with my parents. I don't know. Nothing's ever that bad."

Publicist Fuller said he's polled Granderson family members on the issue.

"I'd love to pull a prank on him but I don't know what would set him off," Fuller said. "None of us can think of anything. He has a very calm demeanor, which should serve him well in New York."

His laid-back nature, however, shouldn't be mistaken for lack of desire to succeed.

"When things go wrong, it eats at him, it burns at him," Brown said. "When he's not being successful, he's just thinking and working his way out of it. You'll never see him yelling and swearing when he strikes out or whatever . . . But he's an intense, intense guy. It's just on the outside, he's so controlled."

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