Yankees’ CF Curtis Granderson recently returned from a goodwill tour of New Zealand, where he not only experienced the unique culture of the island nation, but also served as an ambassador to the country’s fledgling baseball community. Naturally, Granderson’s activities were mostly ignored by the New York tabloids. Wallace Mathews of ESPNNewYork did briefly cover the trip in a blog post, but only to drum up controversy by linking to video of the centerfielder riding on the backseat of a motorcycle.
Fortunately, in this age of social media, fans were able to tag along on Granderson’s trip by following his travels on youtube, twitter, Yankees.com and his charitable organization’s website (grandkidsfoundation.org). In addition to the aforementioned motorcycle tour, Granderson also embarked on other cultural adventures (including meeting Prime Minister John Key, whose son plays baseball), but mostly focused on the country’s athletic scene, including visits with professional basketball, cricket and rugby teams.
Baseball was the main reason for Granderson’s visit, which coincided with the IBAF under-16 championship trials for the Oceania region. In addition to presiding at numerous camps and clinics for young baseball players from New Zealand and other countries participating in the tournament, Granderson also served as a visiting dignitary promoting interest in a game that has slowly been making inroads on the island. The trip was the center fielder’s fourth as part of Major League Baseball’s International Ambassador program. His previous visits included Europe (England, the Netherlands and Italy), South Africa and China.
Not only is baseball’s popularity at on all-time high in the United States, but the level of interest and participation abroad has been exploding. The number of foreign born players in the majors is the most obvious evidence, but the growing number of countries eager to host MLB’s ambassador visits is even more encouraging. The popularity of the World Baseball Classic has been an offshoot of this global expansion, and perhaps also a driver, but for whatever reason, interest in baseball seems to be spreading beyond the traditional strongholds of Asia and the Americas.
Granderson’s dedication to the Ambassador program is laudable because a major leaguer’s offseason seems to grow shorter each year. From the Yankees perspective, the fact that his latest visit involved him wearing the interlocking NY logo is an added bonus. As the game of baseball expands its frontiers, it is in the Yankees’ best interest to have their brand on the forefront, and trips like Granderson’s help to do just that. After all, despite previously being unknown in the country, Granderson’s travels were widely covered by the New Zealand Herald, which compared his stature to Tiger Woods, David Beckham and Roger Federer, because of the power and presence of the Yankee name.
The Yankees, with their crossed over NY symbol and their pinstriped pyjamas, are the most recognisable sporting brand on the planet. Granderson, the starting centre fielder with an unrivalled skill set, is a star of the present and future.” – New Zealand Herald, January 28, 2011
Granderson’s goodwill trip was a success for the Yankees and Major League Baseball, but no one fared better than New Zealand baseball. Not only did the country’s amateur players receive tutelage and encouragement from a major league superstar, but its under-16 squad upset a heavily favored team from Guam to advance to the August world championship in Mexico. The next step for the country will be to have one of its own become a big leaguer. Toronto Blue Jays’ minor leaguer Scott Campbell, who hails from Aukland, is currently the best hope, but even if he doesn’t make it, sooner or later someone will. Trips like Granderson’s can only help in that regard.