Granderson pledges new UIC baseball stadium

Curtis Granderson

Curtis Granderson
Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

University of Illinois at Chicago alumnus and New York Yankees centerfielder Curtis Granderson has pledged the funding for a new, multi-million dollar baseball stadium on the campus of UIC.

The ballpark will be home for UIC Flames Baseball, but more importantly the facility is intended to serve area youth and the Chicago community. Partnerships with Major League Baseball, Chicago Public Schools and various youth organizations will provide community access to the aptly named Curtis Granderson Stadium for a multitude of events.

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

“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.”

Granderson announced his gift Wednesday at UIC Baseball’s inaugural Diamond Dinner, where UIC retired his No. 28 Flames jersey. The contribution is expected to be the largest gift in UIC Athletics history and one of the most generous on record for the University.

“Being a baseball player is such a small piece of who Curtis really is as a person,” said UIC head baseball coach Mike Dee. “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.”

Curtis Granderson Stadium will host youth league games throughout the spring and summer, providing youngsters with the opportunity to compete in a first-class and safe environment. Coaching and officiating clinics will also be offered at the facility.

MLB’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and Urban Youth Academy programs will be chief partners for Granderson’s youth initiative. RBI has established more than 300 programs in more than 200 cities around the world since its inception in 1989 and now welcomes about 200,000 male and female participants to play baseball and softball each year. More than 200 former RBI participants have been drafted by MLB clubs, including 14 in the 2012 first-year player draft. Granderson’s Yankee teammate, pitcher C.C. Sabathia, is an alumnus of the RBI program.

“There are a lot of people in the community that are in the same situation I was in 15 to 20 years ago,” said Granderson. “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.”

MLB and its 30 clubs have designated more than $30 million to RBI. UIC is working with the Cubs and the White Sox to expand each of their ongoing RBI programs.

Stadium rendering

UIC will also work with RBI to inject an educational component. UIC’s history of implementing educational programs for at-risk youth will mesh with the life-skills programming in the RBI and UYA models.

“The educational aspect is important to me, and it’s all going to take place right here in the inner city,” said Granderson. “We have diversity, minorities, and it’s all under a university setting.”

Construction for the new stadium is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2013 with a two-year timetable. The open-air, brick-and-stone-clad ballpark will allow flexibility and easy pedestrian movement. It will feature 1,200 chair-back seats and two grassy berms for fan seating, plus one level of disability seating and another level with enhanced press amenities.

“I started playing baseball when I was six years old, and friendships I had at that point I still have today,” Granderson said. “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. You’re going to have to set goals and work hard to accomplish them. That’s what baseball has done for me, and hopefully that’s what baseball will do for the youth in Chicago.”

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