BIRMINGHAM, Mich. -- A day after Detroit said hello to the new Tigers, it bade a touching farewell to one of its favorites. Curtis Granderson knew he'd be in for an emotional time as he readied for his third annual Celebrity Shootout basketball game, his final event in Michigan before heading to Spring Training with the Yankees. He didn't know he'd be watching a video tribute before he took the court, encapsulating his five-plus seasons as a Tiger into about five minutes. "Detroit loves you, Curtis," a fan shouted as Granderson took the court.
The feeling was mutual. Like Tigers fans, Granderson is moving on, but he isn't forgetting where he got his start. It was a bittersweet departure, but not bitter. "Changes happen all the time," Granderson said. "New players come and go. And the fact that so many people have said to me that they're going to miss me, that's probably the most emotional [I get]." It was fitting that Granderson was able to culminate his Detroit tenure with a community effort to raise funds for his Grand Kids Foundation. For all the memories he made in the Motor City on the field, he has done just as much or more with his charitable work. It earned him the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award as voted by MLB players at season's end, and it earned a lot of help for schools in Michigan. That help is likely to continue, even as Granderson expands his efforts to New York. The planning on this event was well under way by the time the Tigers dealt Granderson to New York at last month's Winter Meetings. Even if he had wanted to cancel, it would've been difficult and costly. Beyond getting use of the gymnasium at Seaholm High School, he had a slew of former Michigan athletes who had committed to take part. Once he received several messages immediately after the trade, asking him if the game was still on, he was sure going ahead was the right thing to do. From there, it became more than a fundraiser. As Granderson made his way back into town, it set in that this was one of his last trips. "Coming in [from Chicago], driving back, seeing the 'Welcome to Michigan' sign, that was one [sign]," Granderson said. "Talking with kids yesterday in Battle Creek [on a visit], that was another one. Here, once I walked through the door, the consistent comments from everybody saying they were going to miss me, that was another thing." It was emotional, no doubt, but a fair amount of that emotion was laughter. Though he doesn't play in the game, serving as the game's referee shows off a little more of his personality in what is very much a loose game. He whistled former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard for lack of effort on a layup and had mock arguments with guest coaches such as Pistons guard Ben Gordon and Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski. He raffled off quite a few items, including some of his old Tigers gear. Many fans had Tigers items for Granderson to autograph. He said he signed more with his old Tigers number, 28, than his new Yankees number, 14, though he gave each fan the option. He signed many without a number at all. He signed a book with both numbers for a kid who changed his mind in mid-autograph. Still, he was glad to hear about the reception his old teammates had at TigerFest. "You know, the fans are still very supportive," he said. "As mad as some guys might've been [after the trade], they're still very supportive of the team, and that's one of the great things about this city." He's getting used to the idea of moving to his new city and all the challenges it entails. He has started looking for a place to live in the Big Apple, and he has talked with some of his new teammates. He's preparing himself for the expectations that come with playing in the Bronx. "Once I get down there and start working and have the uniform on and start practicing and have the first Spring Training game and then go to New York, each step is going to be another thing that sets in," Granderson said. Though he has never met Austin Jackson, who followed Granderson coming up through the Minor Leagues, Granderson has some empathy and some advice for him as he prepares for life as a rookie center fielder in Comerica Park. Give your best effort, he said, and the rest will take care of itself. One of the most frequent things Jackson heard this week was that he had big shoes to fill. "The big thing is, he didn't ask for the pressure," Granderson said. "He wants to play. I understand that, and that's what we all want to do. And he hasn't had big league time yet, so when he goes into it, he's fresh. Everything's going to be new. Learn that everybody, they just want to see you work hard out there, give 110 percent. I learned that really fast. The fans just want to see that. If you do that, they're going to fall in love with you." Granderson went through essentially the same thing as a rookie center fielder and leadoff hitter in Detroit in 2006. He's a veteran now, but now he'll have to earn respect all over again. Everything resets, on all sides. Both the Tigers and Granderson are moving on, even as Granderson and fans took one more afternoon to share some memories. "I'm going to miss you guys, truly," Granderson told fans after the game. "I really look forward to coming out here in May [when the Yankees visit the Tigers]. I hope I get some applause."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.