DETROIT - Curtis Granderson went to the University of Illinois-Chicago because he wanted to play baseball and basketball.
His parents, both teachers in the suburbs of the Windy City, were focused on their son getting his degree.
Granderson's basketball dream ended early. He broke his wrist before tryouts began. By the time he was a sophomore, he had turned his full-time attention to baseball.
He had the second-highest batting average (.483) in Division I as a junior in 2002, and the second-team All-American was chosen in the third round of the June draft by the Detroit Tigers.
Despite leaving college a year early, Granderson went back to school in the offseason and earned his degree in marketing.
"My parents always said, 'Get your degree, get your degree,' but it was important to me, too," Granderson said. "I thought no matter what, baseball might not be the only thing I end up doing for the rest of my life. I had to have something to fall back on just in case things didn't work out.
"I didn't want to put it off. I wanted to get my degree quickly, before it became harder and harder to go back to school. It took me a year-and-a-half to finish, but I graduated on time."
As you can imagine, that made his mom and dad - Mary and Curtis Sr. - very happy. But they couldn't have been totally surprised. Curtis was an honor student at Thornton Fractional South High School in Linwood, Ill.
He is 25 now and earning a very modest sum of $335,000 in his first full season in the big leagues, his fifth season of professional baseball overall.
Granderson talks to his mother almost every day and he still lives with his parents in the offseason.
He's not one bit ashamed of it.
"My parents are a big reason I am where I am today," he said. "I enjoy being around them, helping them and spending time with them."
Granderson is polite and
mature. He's one of the truly nice guys in the Tigers' locker room.
No one has a bad word to say about him.
"Curtis Granderson is a super human being," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "He doesn't have a bad bone in his body. He's a great guy and a great teammate. I don't know where we'd be without him.
"He gets my vote for clutch MVP player the first half of the season."
Granderson played in 111 games with the Mud Hens at the Triple-A level last season before being summoned to Detroit for good in mid-August.
He is 6-foot-1 and a slender 185 pounds. He carried a .287 batting average into last night's game at Pittsburgh, with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs.
Granderson has been a little inconsistent offensively, but you expect that from a young player.
He still strikes out too much for a leadoff hitter, fanning 87 times in 79 games, but he has developed into a top-notch
center fielder. He has yet to commit an error in his first 131 games in the outfield.
"I'm definitely a little surprised I've done so well," Granderson said. "I've been working hard, but I still know I've got a long way to go to become a well-rounded player."
Granderson credits Tigers coach Andy Van Slyke for helping him sharpen his defensive skills.
Van Slyke was a three-time All-Star center fielder for the Pirates and he won five Gold Glove awards for his fielding excellence in 13 major league seasons.
"Every day we're out there taking fly balls, he's helping me with the mental approach to playing the outfield, and we're studying the different opponents that are coming into the ballpark," Granderson said. "It's helped a lot. I'm starting to get more and more comfortable out there."
In the grand scheme of things, he's way ahead of the curve.
"Curtis is very bright," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He's got a good chance to be a real good one."
As the All-Star break
approaches, Granderson and the first-place Tigers are making the grade just fine.
Their next assignment is to graduate to the playoffs.