Detroit — It was the flag pole out beyond the visitors’ bullpen in left-center field that sparked one of Curtis Granderson’s first memories of Comerica Park.
“This is where I got the chance to start my career,” he said from the Miami Marlins clubhouse before Tuesday's game. “Signing my contract, actually, I remember the first time coming on the field and getting asked, ‘Hey, do you think you can play center field here?’
“This was before they moved the fences in and my thought process was, ‘No chance.’ Look at where that flag pole is. How is that going to happen?”
Two years later, in 2004, Granderson made it happen, making his big-league debut against the Twins, patrolling that spacious center field.
“Just amazing,” he said. “I never thought it would happen, and I got a chance to play four full seasons here (and parts of two others). Awesome.”
That first game, Granderson remembered vividly, he threw out the Twins’ Jacque Jones at third base.
“He was trying to go first to third,” Granderson said. “I was like, ‘Here we go.’ Right away they tested me and I was able to make a good throw. I didn’t get a hit that game, but I did get an assist.”
Fifteen years and six teams later, Granderson, 38, is still at it, mentoring and providing leadership to a young, rebuilding team in Miami. Make no mistake, though, his home is still Chicago, but a big piece of his heart remains in Detroit.
“A lot of people assume that because I played in New York (four years with the Yankees, four with the Mets) that automatically trumps every other place because of the size of that market. And that is a special place, too.
“But your first, there’s nothing that can take that away. I got a chance to go to my first World Series here. I went to my first All-Star Game here, my first World Baseball Classic here. I’ve had a lot of perks here and I enjoyed my time here so much.”
Granderson has played in two World Series and was a member of the Dodgers team that lost to the Astros in 2017. But he remembers 2006 as a magical ride. He hit .312 in the division and championship series, with three homers and seven RBIs.
But like the rest of the Tigers that year, he went cold against the St. Louis Cardinals (2 for 21).
“The city was in a situation, it was before the economic crisis had hit the country, but people were being affected here and so many were turning to sports looking for enjoyment,” Granderson said. “And we were able to provide it. That was really cool.
“Everywhere we went, in Detroit or outside Detroit, we got a lot of respect. A lot of people talked about our team and were really excited about what was to come.”
He talked about the rivalry between Detroit and Cleveland at that time, too.
“There was so much talk about New York and Boston, about how you had to beat them and we hadn’t done anything against them,” he said. “But we had our rivalry in the AL Central with the Indians. And, too, the Pistons and Cavs were a big rivalry then.
“There was just so much going on over the course of a three-to-five year period in a two-hour radius between the two cities — it just made it so much fun.”
Those were the days, indeed.
Granderson comes into the series this week with 1,957 games under his belt — 8,077 plate appearances, 1,763 hits, 337 home runs, 915 RBIs and a slash-line of .251/.339/.469.
That’s a full career.