- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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Curtis Granderson is sitting in a locker room in the basement at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he played college ball. He is surrounded by words and deeds -- plaques with motivational sayings on the walls above the lockers and his baseball past in the form of old jerseys that tell his life's story.
The photographer asks him, "Curtis, do you mind putting on the Yankee jersey?" Before the final word is out, the newest member of the reigning world champs grabs the iconic pinstriped jersey with the No.14 on the back (and a state of mind on the front) and slides it over his head without pausing to adjust the one undone button.
He grabs the dark blue cap (the cap Mr. Shawn Carter claims he made more famous than the team could), adjusts it to the perfect Derek Jeter angle, pulls the bill down a bit and looks at the photographer with that smile. Like, "What?"
All-Star Game? World Baseball Classic? World Series? All of that means nothing now. See, the minute Granderson put on that Yankees jersey for the first time less than a month ago, his life changed forever. He will be the first to tell you that he never expected to be in Yankee blue, never thought he'd be the player the most famous and best team in baseball would look toward to help maintain its re-established status quo. But here he is inside the Peggy Colvin Baseball Center For Excellence, in the first stage of what is about to be his real baseball introduction to the rest of the world.
Scoop Jackson: Any nerves?
Curtis Granderson: Always.
Jackson: But a different type of nerves.
Granderson: Naw, I don't think it's anything different to it. This is going to be a new first, you know, like playing in Boston against the Red Sox as a Yankee as opposed to as a Tiger. It's going to be different playing in Yankee Stadium for the Yankees as opposed to as a Tiger. But I've played there in the playoffs, the highest stakes possible; I've gotten a chance to play in the World Series, the highest stakes possible. Had a chance to play with some of the best players in the world in the All-Star Game and the World Baseball Classic, so all of those first have already happened. But spring training, that opening day in Boston, when I go back to Detroit, I think those will be up there if not bigger [for me] than some games that should mean more.
Jackson: So tell me what you are the most apprehensive about going to New York, and what are you the most excited about?
Granderson: I think living arrangements are going to be something that's underrated in the fact that everyone says, "Wow, you're going to New York. It's a big city; there's tons of things to do!" But I'm one of those guys that tends to always stay under the radar. If I want to go eat at 2 a.m., I want to be able to do that and not be scrutinized for where I'm eating or who I'm eating with. Like if I have a childhood friend in town, if we decide to go get something to eat, why not? I'm not doing anything to put my performance on the field in jeopardy. I'm just hungry. [Laughs.] So little things like that. And where I'm going to live, the cost of living. I had a really nice place in Detroit. The places like that I heard in New York, the areas that people are talking about that I might stay, are double or triple what it was there. And those are the little things that a lot of people haven't thought about that are real big to me. And as far as excitement, what am I excited about? Just playing there. There are only a few teams in sports that are America's teams. The Lakers, the Cowboys and the Yankees.
Jackson: The mystique of it? Of them?
Granderson: I didn't realize it until Gary Sheffield told me, he said, "You know, people want to finish their careers there." He told me that at least he can say when he retires that he played for the Yankees. And I didn't realize the magnitude of it until he said it. And that's when I said, "Now I'm going to get a chance to play for the Yankees."
Jackson: Chance to win a ring?
Granderson: You know, people have said that to me -- "At least you have a chance to win a ring." And I always say, "Every team has a chance to win a ring." I played in a World Series while I was in Detroit, so you never know. The Yankees hadn't been in the World Series since 2001; now, the fact that they are defending champions I'm sure is going to make them the odds-on favorites. But it's 0-0 as far as I'm concerned.
Jackson: Does the uniform feel different? I've heard that the Yankee uniform feels different than the others.
Granderson: You know, it's weird; I tell people, "Growing up as a kid, I was a Braves fan." So I had my Little League jersey team, which I think was the White Sox one year, the Brewers another year, and then I bought a Braves jersey. And I never came close to a Yankee jersey. [Laughs.] Like I'd go to Foot Locker or places that had jerseys, and they'd say that they had Yankee jerseys, and I didn't even think about buying one. There just wasn't anyone that I was a big fan of on the Yankees at that time; I was a Braves fan. To be honest, [the introductory media conference] was the first time I'd ever touched a Yankee jersey. I mean, I've shaken players' hands who were playing for the Yankees when I played against them and stuff, but to get it and put it on it looked a lot different. A lot different than looking at somebody that was wearing it. It's weird. Like, I almost forgot there were stripes on it until I put it on.
Granderson: Yeah. Because the "NY" stands out so strong on the jersey because it's so crisp and so full and so powerful and it's such a simple jersey, that when I had it on, I just looked at it and noticed the pinstripes and thought about remembering people talking about how the pinstripes "pop" so much. But for whatever reason, I don't know, I didn't notice them. Even playing against them, playing against Jeter and Johnny Damon, guys that I'd speak to, A-Rod at third base whenever I made it over there, for some reason I just didn't notice the stripes until I actually had them on.
Jackson: And you never even wore a Yankee cap for the fashion/style sense like everyone else?
Granderson: No. Like I said, it was Braves caps for me. Always a Braves cap.
Jackson: Now that you are one of [the Yankees], are you worried about the media in New York trying to get any dirt on you?
Granderson: [He almost finishes the question as it is being asked.] They're going to look for something? Too-good-to-be-true kind of deal? From a playing aspect, that doesn't bother me. I've handled 0-20 slumps. I've had to answer why I'm struggling against left-handed pitchers. I probably had my worst moment on the biggest stage when I slipped and fell in the World Series, so with all that stuff, I'll be fine. But it's the little things you know, whatever it is I'm not married, I don't have any kids, I'm friendly, I'm outgoing and, depending what's going on, I know [my personal actions] can be taken advantage of. I've always felt that I'm not that big [in stature]. Yeah, I play professional baseball, but it's a job, just like someone else has. But I get that this is New York
Jackson: and you are the new kid, media fresh meat, and they are going to probably look for anything and at times make things out to be what they really aren't.
Granderson: Yeah, that's going to be interesting. Because I don't want to have to change the things that I do. Going out to eat, hanging with my friends, parents coming to town, etc. That's my life, that's what I do, and those are the most important things in my life besides baseball and taking care of my body. I'm going to be with them, I'm going to hang out with them, eat with them, shop with them, whatever it is, that's stuff I don't want to have to change. But at the same time, I really don't know if anyone is ready until they go into that situation and what could happen could actually change you.
Jackson: Are you worried about this -- being in New York, playing for the Yankees, dealing with the media -- possibly changing you?
Granderson: A lot of this stuff has come up in conversations with friends; it's come up at different stages of my career. When I first made it to the bigs, when I first played in the World Series, people were always saying to me, "Just don't let it change you." Now, the one thing that I am afraid of are things that I'm going to have to change in order to stay the same. Things I'm going to have to change because of the question you just asked earlier. You know, just being aware of little things that I do so that nothing can be taken the wrong way. The little things I might have to change in my daily life. Like hanging out at a coffee shop, just having some coffee with a friend versus a friend or friends coming in town and us just going to a bar just to have a cocktail -- you know, basic stuff. And being in New York, people -- my people -- are going to be like, "Why are we here at this place? We want to go someplace big time." And if I'm out, say, at midnight with my friends that are visiting at some big-named spot after a game that we lost, that's not necessarily the best or smartest thing. And because of that, now all of a sudden you know? Little things like that, I'm slightly aware that people are going to think and say, "Man, he's changed." I'm more concerned about the things that I have to change now that I'm in New York. Not the other way around. Things that people I know are going to say, "Wow, that's changed you."
Jackson: Your new Yankee number is 14. There's a story behind you not wearing your old number, No. 28. What's the story?
Granderson: Here it is: The Yankees gave me the option to have No. 28 when I came, but [manager] Joe Girardi took [and wore] No. 27 last year to bring them their 27th championship. So his daughter was like, "Well Daddy, you know what that means? That means you gotta be No. 28 next year." So when they told me that, I was like, "If I take No. 28 and we don't win ." Man, I'm not trying to be that jinx.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.