CHICAGO | Welcome to Granderson Stadium.
Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
Thursday afternoon was all sun and smiles at the University of Illinois- Chicago, where New York Mets' star and T.F. South grad Curtis Granderson helped unveil the school's $10 million baseball stadium named after him.
"Excited. Emotional. Mission accomplished," he said. "Hands down, one of the top facilities in all of baseball."
The three-time All-Star's $5 million donation is the single largest known gift from a professional athlete to UIC.
Head coach Mike Dee was quick to point out: "There was a misunderstanding that this facility was for UIC, but we're going to be a tenant in this place."
More than 10,000 kids ages 7-18 will use the new facility, including 38 youth organizations and all Chicago Public School teams.
That was the master plan Dee and Granderson had envisioned when they sat down to discuss the project a year ago.
"As a kid, I just wanted to play baseball, have fun, and enjoy being with my friends and family," Granderson said. "When I had the opportunity to do this and give the same thought to the youth in this area – whether it be individuals in college, high school or someone younger – that's what I wanted to give because that's what I had."
During a packed news conference in the stadium press box as VIPs in sports and politics looked on, an older women leaned over to a friend and whispered: "Isn't Curtis just the best?"
She's right. This is more than an exceptional baseball talent who's played for the Tigers and Yankees. Granderson has always had a passion for helping less fortunate youth.
"I've been coaching 30 years and Curtis is the most unique man I've been around," Dee said. "He is unbelievably committed to kids and his social responsibility."
Chicago's mean streets continue claiming the lives of innocent children caught in gang crossfire; bored kids in the wrong place at the wrong time. Granderson can't stop the insanity, but he can give them an option.
"I'm not a criminal law person but I understand that if you have things to do, things that are positive that you look forward to, you're going to try to do as many things as possible – and that includes staying out of trouble," Granderson said.
"We knew that if we got into trouble at school, got detention, got suspended, got in a fight, got bad grades, something was going to be taken away from us. Whatever that 'something' is, we have to continue to offer that to those individuals so they realize they have to think twice before making a bad decision."
He's hoping Granderson Stadium can make baseball relevant again to young minorities.
"If we don't have options like baseball, like other sports, like after school activities, then I got nothing you're going to take away from me, so the ability and potential to get into more trouble increases," Granderson explained.
"That's my two cents on it. That's how I lived my life. I knew Mom and Dad would take something away from me if I got into trouble."
Two hours before game time and fans were lining up. Granderson Stadium features a Synthetic Turf surface, a seating capacity of 1,784 and the sweeping Chicago skyline as a backdrop.
"It's neat to have my name on something that's going to be here for a very long time," said a wide-eyed Granderson. "I'm confident this facility will have a tremendous impact on our community."