Granderson pledges funds for baseball stadium

Curtis Granderson

“The field is designed to have a ‘wow’ factor,” Curtis Granderson says at a UIC press conference. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

By Christian Davis

When UIC alumnus and current New York Yankee Curtis Granderson visited campus Wednesday he had a big announcement to make: he pledged the funding to build a multi-million dollar baseball stadium on campus.

The Curtis Granderson Baseball Stadium is scheduled to open in summer 2014; construction begins this fall. Granderson’s contribution is expected to be the largest gift in UIC Athletics history.

“Partnerships that combine academics and baseball — these speak to Curtis’s passions,” UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares said. “We are deeply grateful to Curtis and to his wonderful parents. He epitomizes the UIC family and all we can accomplish together.”

At a news conference in Student Center East, Granderson stressed that the field would provide youths ages 6 to 18 the chance to play baseball in a safe university atmosphere, with the help of partnerships between UIC, Major League Baseball, the Chicago Public Schools and youth organizations.

“Not only is this going to give UIC baseball a great facility to play — with a beautiful skyline — but we’re going to house every Chicago Public High School, all of which are going to get the chance to play here.” Granderson said.

“I started playing baseball when I was 6 years old and friendships I had at that point I still have today. You learn teamwork, leadership, discipline and also how to fail and succeed, things you don’t realize at the time how beneficial they are going to be moving forward.”

The design of the stadium is intended to make the field as transparent as possible to offer glimpses of the action to approaching fans. There will be concession stands and refreshments, lighting towers and the Chicago skyline at centerfield.

In addition to the stadium’s visual grandeur, the field itself will be made of turf, which allows for maximized playing time. Turf not only makes the field 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature, but it also is impervious to rain, so as soon as the rain stops, players can get right back on the field.

“We are grateful to Curtis for his generosity, which will impact UIC baseball and our student-athletes for generations,” said UIC athletic director Jim Schmidt. “Curtis is once again demonstrating his strong core values in assisting the youth of Chicago. He is a special person and a great representative for UIC.”

The idea was born when Granderson and UIC head baseball coach Mike Dee were discussing the decline of diversity in baseball in the major and minor leagues, as well as college teams.

“Being a baseball player is such a small piece of who Curtis really is as a person,” Dee said. “I think this gift demonstrates where his heart is and his sense of social responsibility. I’m really proud of him as a person and I’m proud he came from this program.”

Their resolution was to create a miniature coliseum just south of UIC’s east campus that had access to public transportation, security, a university atmosphere, access to other fields and beauty.

“The field is designed to have a ‘wow’ factor,” Granderson said.

And with that “wow factor,” Granderson hopes to inspire youths to start playing early.

Granderson said he and his fellow New York Yankees plan to host youth baseball camps at the field and would like to host the high school state championship or regional conference finals.

“There are a lot of people in the community that are in the same situation I was in 15 to 20 years ago,” Granderson said. “Now, I am in a position where I have the ability to help kids pursue whatever dreams they have, whether they are educational, athletic or just life in general.

“I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to team up with UIC, which has helped me get to where I am today.”

His No. 28 Flames Jersey was retired Feb. 6 at the UIC baseball team’s inaugural Diamond Dinner.

“Hopefully I didn’t take it [the number] away from anyone on the current UIC roster,” he joked.

“It’s amazing looking back, 10 years removed from graduating, to see all I’ve accomplished because of UIC.”

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