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MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

No. 3 fits former speedster Granderson

Outfielder racked up triples early in career, and he has a spacious new home ballpark

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JUPITER, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson was born in the third month -- March 16, 1981. The Mets are his third team following the Tigers and the Yankees. Granderson was selected in the third round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, played in three All-Star Games and three American League Championship Series. When he moved from the Tigers to the Yankees, the transaction involved three teams. Granderson has played three positions in the big leagues. He has worn three uniform numbers during his 10 summers in the game -- 26, 28 and 14.

After he signed with the Mets in December, Granderson was asked which uniform number he would prefer to wear. He chose 28. Sorry, 28 is Daniel Murphy's numerical ID, and Granderson didn't want to cause a revision of the roster. So he inquired about 14, but that number has been the personal property of Gil Hodges since 1968. Sorry, Grandy, move on. So Granderson pondered his predicament, and for multiple reasons, the Mets' highest-profile offseason acquisition requested No. 3.

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The number belonged to Omar Quintanilla last season, so there wasn't much of a hurdle accommodating Granderson's third request. Moreover, the number hadn't been put to the best use over the years. The shortstops who played for the Mets' two World Series champion teams, Bud Harrelson and Rafael Santana, wore No. 3 in 1969 and '86, and Gus Bell, who produced the franchise's first hit in 1962, also wore the number. Otherwise, the Mets' No. 3 has been worn by mostly unremarkable players. So Granderson wasn't about to the challenge anyone's legacy.

Oddly, it wasn't until the early days of Mets camp this year that Granderson become aware of a more compelling reason for him to wear No. 3. Triples, three-base hits if you prefer. And Granderson and triples are quite familiar. You would have thought he'd remember.

As a member of the Tigers in 2007, Granderson hit 23, more than any other single-season total since 1949. And though his total dropped by 10 in 2008, he led the AL again.

Twenty-three triples would stand as a Mets record, of course. The Mets became a franchise 13 years after Dale Mitchell hit 23 for the Indians in that absurdly proportioned dinosaur arena called Municipal Stadium. The 23 exceeded the club record, 21, Lance Johnson established in 1996. Jose Reyes would lead the league in triples in 2005, '06 and '08 with, respectively, 17, 17 and 19. But otherwise, no New York player has led the National League in triples since Willie Mays (20) in 1957.

(AL footnote: After Harry Simpson moved from the Kansas City A's to the Yankees in 1957, he hit three triples and shared the AL lead (nine) with Yankees teammates Hank Bauer and Gil McDougald. Not until last season -- Brett Gardner with 10 -- did another Yankees players lead the league in three-base hits.)

So really, only a faint recent history of triples challenges Granderson as he prepares for this fifth season in New York. Not that he's been looking for a challenge in that area. Granderson has hit 31 in his last five seasons, two coming last year when he missed all but 61 games. Moreover, he turns 33 the day before St. Patrick's Day, and he doesn't run as freely or swiftly as he did in 2007.

"The wheels are still pretty good," Granderson said last week. "But triples aren't just about speed. ... You've got to want a triple. You've got to be thinking triple right out of the box."

Speed is a factor, of course; there's a reason Jason Phillips, once a Mets catcher, now a Mariners coach, hit 77 doubles, 30 home runs -- and no triples -- in 1,537 plate appearances in the big leagues.

"I do think triple coming out of the box," Phillips said in March 2004. "And I always pull in to second thinking I was smart to stop.

"If someone writes about me as a baserunner, you usually see the word 'lumbering' or 'slow.' I think I was described once as stationary."

Johnson, now an outfield coach with the Marlins, said last week he'd like to retain the Mets record. "But that ballpark [Citi Field] is pretty big. Curtis could get a few extra there."

Citi Field opened in 2009, and predictions were that Reyes would challenge all triples records, hitting in so spacious a park. But he played three seasons there, all before the dimensions were altered to make the park more conducive to home runs, and his production wasn't extraordinary -- 28 triples in 1,355 plate appearances.

The diminished dimensions have yet to have a significant impact on home run totals, but they clearly afford potential triples less room to roll. And triples guys need room, unattended grass.

"Parks with a lot of foul territory help. You can get an extra base if the other team starts kicking the ball around," Granderson said.

Citi Field isn't blessed in that regard. Indeed, the Mets' home park is quite similar to Roger Dean Stadium, here, in terms of foul territory. Granderson hit a high fly ball down the left-field line that bounced high and into the stands in his first at-bat Sunday.

In Granderson's 2007 season, with more space for weird bounces, it would have been a triple. In Spring Training 2014, with little to be gained by moving 90 feet closer to a run, he decelerated before he reached second. A double would do.

Chances are Citi Field won't enhance Granderson's home run total, nor will it help his quest for triples, either.

"It's a big park, I know," Granderson said. "But it's not huge. It's going to give up some hits."

Marty Noble 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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