It is not easy to get lost in the shuffle with the New York Yankees. In addition to playing under the bright lights of the epicenter of the sporting universe, the Yankees are among the highest paid and most scrutinized professional athletes. They are mega-stars whose notoriety often dips into celebrity status. Every pitch and swing is subject to an unblinking scrutiny by media and fans alike. It is difficult to blend in. Curtis Granderson has actually done an excellent job of just that.
The Yankees and their fans had the highest of hopes when the team traded for Granderson last December. He represented general manger Brian Cashman’s renewed commitment to embracing the modern movement of baseball. The Bombers’ new centerfielder was a young, athletic All-Star who could hit for power and play with speed and heart. He had a team-friendly contract and more importantly, a team-first attitude. The 29-year-old was almost an automatic fan favorite: players and managers gushed about his affable personality, commitment to winning and intense relationship with fans and the community. Concerns about his ability (or lack thereof) to hit lefties were tempered against the bubbly optimism he represented. Here was New York’s centerfielder of the present and the future, no easy designation given the lofty pedigree of the position.
Granderson’s Yankee career could not have started any better. Every Yankee fan worth his or her pinstripes will remember his first at-bat. He launched Josh Beckett’s full-count offering deep into the New England night and circled the bases with an impressive mixture of steely determination and boyhood ecstasy. Three days later he connected off Jonathan Papelbon in extra innings and orders were placed for his plaque in Monument Park.
Since that euphoric opening week, Granderson has experienced in equal portions the highs and lows of New York Yankees baseball. He missed 24 games due to a strained groin and his numbers are down from their career norms. He has 10 homers and eight steals to go with a .250 average – hardly impressive but not bad enough to condemn him given his pervasive popularity among fans. His walk and strikeout rates are in line with his career performances but his BABIP (.291) is down nearly 30 points, suggesting a surge may be forthcoming. Granderson is a notoriously streaky hitter and is beginning to show signs of joining Mark Teixeira in the happy place. He has six hits, including three homers, in his last four games.
The name of the game for the Yankees is winning. The team has the best record in baseball and Curtis Granderson has quietly contributed to that success. It has been a bumpy ride for Granderson but smooth sailing may be on the horizon. The Yankees can only hope that he is saving the real fireworks for late October and beyond.
Anthony Federico covers all levels of the game for Baseball Digest and Gotham Baseball. He is the author of “Must Be Nice” – a novel about the glory of beer-league softball. Check out www.mustbenicebook.com for more info or follow him on Twitter @AntFeds