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Granderson tries to get youth involved

Granderson tries to get youth involved

DETROIT -- Curtis Granderson didn't have the chance to take part in Jackie Robinson Day festivities last year. He was on the disabled list at the time, preparing for a Minor League rehab stint to test out his fractured right hand.

With the Tigers at home for this year's festivities Wednesday, Granderson was a visible participant. Not only did he don Robinson's jersey number 42 once again, as did every player in the Major Leagues, he was one of 13 players around baseball to receive a special set of baseball cleats from Nike to wear for the game. The blue and gray shoes feature Robinson's number 42 on the side in red.

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Before the game, Granderson took part in an on-field ceremony to honor four Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars from the University of Michigan, as well as the six winners of the Tigers' 13th annual Jackie Robinson Art, Essay and Poetry contest.

The total effort helps raise awareness of the impact Robinson had not just on baseball, but America. Granderson thinks Major League Baseball's efforts over the past several years, even before Jackie Robinson Day, have helped.

"I think the awareness of Jackie Robinson and the importance of the day is there," Granderson said. "And I think it's been there -- maybe not necessarily the day, but the fact of who he is and what he's done for not only baseball, but in general."

Another goal for Granderson is to try to continue the legacy and get more African-American kids involved in the game, notably in inner cities. Granderson has been involved in that effort, along with other prominent Major Leaguers such as Jimmy Rollins.

That goal, Granderson said, has been tougher to achieve.

"I think there has been a lot made about acknowledging the decline of African-Americans, not only in Major League Baseball, but baseball in general," Granderson said. "But I haven't seen much working to get it back right. You've seen attempts."

The work might finally be paying off. A report released Wednesday indicated the percentage of black players in the Majors increased to 10.2 percent last year, the first rise since the 1995 season. The other part of that is to get more participation in youth leagues.

Granderson's recent success, as well as that of CC Sabathia, and the World Series run by the Phillies behind star players Rollins and Ryan Howard, have all made African-American players more visible in the game. Still, Granderson said, no African-American baseball player has reached the same level of recognition as top superstar players in other sports, such as LeBron James and Kevin Garnett in basketball, or LaDainian Tomlinson in football.

Granderson thinks there's starting to be an impact. He has heard people in public talking about the commercials Rollins and Howard did this past offseason. But he also believes long-term success will take time.

"Just talking with guys on this team and other teams, I've been trying to come up with what needs to be done, what can be done," Granderson said. "I think the most difficult thing has been getting kids to think that it's not a boring sport."

"We have big-name guys in baseball. I don't know what it is."

One thing Granderson would like to see is more kids playing baseball along with other sports. He worries that youth and high school athletics have become so encompassing in terms of workouts and practices that kids are sometimes forced to choose one sport too early rather than enjoy more than one.

Granderson grew up with basketball as his first love and baseball close behind. He didn't choose baseball exclusively over hoops, he said, until his sophomore year in college. Marcus Thames, he pointed out, was a great football player as a kid but loved baseball, as were Ryan Raburn and Brent Clevlen.

"It's part of being a kid and growing up," Granderson said. "And I don't think you should be limited until you, the kid, get to decide."

The Tigers were part of Jackie Robinson Day festivities held around the Major Leagues, celebrating the anniversary of Robinson's Major League debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the historic significance of the Majors' first African-American player. Players, coaches and umpires honored Robinson by wearing the number 42.

"I thought it was neat," outfielder Marcus Thames said. "I saw the umpires wearing number 42. I was happy to see that."

Granderson and Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon were among the judges for the Art, Essay and Poetry Contest, which received 277 submissions from local middle and high school students. Here were the winners:

Art -- Kendall Dumas, Langston Hughes Middle School, Detroit; Randy Asahak, Mohegan High School, Macomb
Essay -- Sanjay Reddy, West Bloomfield Middle School; Andrew Biter, Riverview High School, Detroit
Poetry -- Alex Knight, Sarah Banks Middle School, Walled Lake; Raphael Tramble, Loyola High School, Detroit

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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